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Snap suspends two anonymous messaging apps after cyberbullying lawsuit

Snap will suspend two anonymous messaging integrations from Snapchat after a lawsuit sought to hold them responsible for a teenager’s death, the Los Angeles Times reports. The lawsuit was filed on Monday by Kristin Bride, the mother of a teenager who died by suicide in June after being bullied on the two apps.

“In light of the serious allegations raised by the lawsuit, and out of an abundance of caution for the safety of the Snapchat community, we are suspending both Yolo and LMK’s Snap Kit integrations while we investigate these claims,” a spokesperson for Snap said in a statement. Representatives for the two apps, Yolo and LMK, did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

Yolo and LMK are developed by third-party developers, and they integrate with Snapchat via its Snap Kit platform. LMK lets users create polls and Q&As for their Snapchat friends to answer, while Yolo is focused on Q&As. Both services let users send messages anonymously which facilitates cyberbullying to such a degree that the apps should be considered dangerous, the suit alleges.

Last year, when Carson Bride was found dead by his family, his phone history showed that he’d searched how to “Reveal YOLO Username Online” that same day. The lawsuit alleges that over a period of several months he had been receiving anonymous bullying messages, which made sexual comments and taunted him over incidents at school.

As of this writing Yolo, which the suit says is owned by Yolo Technologies, appears to no longer be available on either the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. LMK, which is developed by LightSpace, is still available for download on both mobile app stores, but attempting to share content to Snapchat generates an error message.

Both apps make various promises about protection against bullying on their platforms, the LA Times notes. Yolo reportedly warns users during setup that it has “no tolerance for objectionable content or abusive users,” while an FAQ from LMK says it goes “to great lengths to protect our community” with a combination of automated and human moderation. The plaintiffs argue that the two apps violate consumer protection laws by failing to enforce their own terms of service.

Worries that Yolo could be used for bullying have been around for years. As early as 2019, TechCrunch wrote that the app’s model could be open to “teen misuse.” Mashable noted that a previous anonymous messaging app Sarahah was eventually kicked off app stores over its bullying problem.

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act generally protects social media companies from the actions of its users. But Section 230 typically applies to posts rather than app functionality, and US courts have recently shown willingness to hold broader platforms liable when a specific integration proves dangerous. Last week, an appeals court ruled that Snap can be sued over a speed filter, following allegations that it encouraged reckless driving. The claim was that the design of the product encouraged dangerous behavior, with users believing that hitting speeds of 100 miles per hour would unlock an achievement.

The Bride family is seeking damages on behalf of all 92 million Snapchat users, and for the two apps to be banned from the market until they can prove they have effective safeguards in place. The lawsuit specifically says it doesn’t want to punish the users who sent the bullying messages, only the companies that facilitated them; namely Snap and the developers of Yolo and LMK:

The claims in this action are not about third-party users’ communications; hence, this action does not focus on the users’ communications themselves nor does it seek to punish the senders of the bullying and harassing messages.

Rather, the claims here are about how the anonymous messaging apps designed and distributed products and services that are inherently dangerous, unsafe, useless. For decades, anonymous messaging apps been known to cause severe and fatal harm to teenagers, hence, the harms caused by Defendants’ apps were foreseeable.

Bullying problems have been rampant on social networks like Instagram for years. In response, the Facebook-owned social network has introduced a variety of features aimed at curtailing abuse, including warning messages when users post potentially offensive captions and filters to remove bullying comments. As of February this year, Instagram said its bullying and harassment takedowns had nearly doubled since last year.

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