How a concerned mother's lawsuit helped get Snapchat to crack down on media companies

Last year, a mother in a lawsuit accused Snapchat of being too sexy for minors. On Monday, Snapchat announced changes that implied the argument held merit.

The Daily Mail, BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan and the few other media companies allowed to post articles and videos to a highly visited section of Snapchat are being asked to tone down their use of sex and violence to garner attention. Nudity censored with black strips and headlines boasting about graphic content had become so prevalent that the top stories on Snapchat’s Discover media section had been likened to clickbait.

The lawsuit cited as examples an article titled "10 Things He Thinks When He Can't Make You Orgasm" and a post that captioned screen shots from Disney movies with references to sexual intercourse.

If media firms want to continue reaping clicks through similar content, they’ll be asked to block anyone younger than 18 from seeing it. Snapchat asks users to provide their birthdate when registering for an account. In cases in which the sensitive content is deemed newsworthy, companies will be asked to warn users before displaying it to them.

Snap Inc., the company behind the Snapchat messaging app, had been working on updating guidelines for media firms allowed to post to Discover. The Los Angeles company didn’t state on the record what prompted the changes. But there’s no doubt the changes address each of the concerns raised in the improper business practices lawsuit, which was privately settled last month.

Mark Geragos, the attorney for plaintiffs Lynette Young and her unnamed child, declined to comment.

It’s unclear how asking for a reduction on misleading, overly sexualized and profane posts will affect viewership for companies sharing to the Discover section. The larger their audiences, the more money those media companies and Snap can earn from advertisers that place short ads between content.

Snap could reveal for the first time just how big that business is in the coming weeks if, as expected, it moves forward with an initial public offering of its stock. About 100 million people read or watch something on Discover each month. And about 35 separate media brands share content there, ranging from U.S. cable company Comedy Central to Norwegian newspaper VG. Their content disappears from the app after 24 hours — just like the posts people share with their friends on the app.

Snap has exercised strong control about how those companies operate on its service, compared with Facebook and other social media apps where media companies share their work with minimal restrictions. Not only has Snap kept small the number of companies it promotes, but it has also booted those that struggle to meet expectations about readership and quality.

Stories on Discover are clearly aimed at younger audiences. Media companies sometimes employ less dense language than on their own apps and refer to aspects of pop culture that readers’ parents likely would gloss over. But Geragos had said Snap needed to draw a line on what’s appropriate for, say, college students versus middle schoolers.

Now the question is whether those storymakers cut back on tawdry posts or instead choose to maintain them and focus on adult users. If they turn on the adults-only feature, their stories for the day will be inaccessible to self-described minors.

How TEAMDom is taking on the Kardashians, Disney and China

If famous people on social media were considered an industry, the Kardashians would be its dominant business. Kim, Khloe, Kylie and the rest of the influential clan have spun their stardom into shows, merchandise, games and other businesses worth hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Now, several social media celebrities are wondering whether working collaboratively they can top the drama-filled Kardashian family.

“They are the leaders,” said Jake Paul, who rose to fame on the now-defunct 6-second video app Vine. “But TEAMDom can be bigger than that. We’re in the best position relationship- and knowledge-wise to build upon all this social media power.”

TEAMDom, short for Teen Entertainment and Media Kingdom, has brought together 13 online stars so far. They collectively have about 48 million followers on social media apps. Their goal is to promote each others’ works, mentor each other and collaborate on projects for advertisers. They’ll also work together on developing shows, merchandise and several initiatives aimed at advancing their fame and propelling it into a business.

Paul, the year-old venture’s founder and chief executive, described his grand vision as replicating in the social media age what Walt Disney Co. has done in the television era. At the center is characters, shows and movies, and around it are stores, amusement parks and much more.

The plan is getting interest from investors, including Danhua Capital, which led a $1-million financing of the Los Angeles start-up.

Among TEAMDom’s intriguing efforts is trying to get their stars popular in China by translating content and posting it to local social media apps such as Weibo and Meipai. The revenue opportunity in China is far larger, Paul said.

“The Chinese audience is super receptive to Americans and love to see how we live our lives and love to see us try to speak in Mandarin,” Paul said. “Girls there, their dream guy is an American boy.”

But it’s unclear whether those beliefs will bear truth. U.S. tech firms have long struggled to grasp what will pass muster in China. The country’s communist government regularly cracks down on foreign (and sometimes domestic) media influences, leaving the sustainability of the recently launched program in question.

Evite moves to DTLA from WeHo

Digital invitations service Evite is leaving West Hollywood for a larger downtown Los Angeles headquarters as it expects to double to 200 employees.

Since 2010 the company has been a subsidiary of media investment company Liberty Interactive Corp., which also holds stakes in flower delivery service FTD and online loan service LendingTree.

Most of Evite’s business comes from people arranging personal events, led by parents looking to send invitations for their children’s birthday parties. The company generates almost all of its revenue from advertising, with firms paying to put their messages in front of groups defined by their event tastes — like birthday-going parents. Besides that interest-targeted advertising, Evite doesn’t envision selling user data.

Chief Executive Victor Cho, who lives in San Francisco and spends about two nights a week in Los Angeles, declined to reveal financial figures or speculate on whether it might spin off on its own someday. But he described Evite as profitable and growing in usage and revenue.

The need for more space comes as Evite adds Facebook-like photo- and video-sharing features to event pages.

“It’s no longer about just whether you’re either coming or not going,” Cho said. The hope is to turn to Evite into a recurring destination and a place where the highlights of an event are saved together indefinitely. The company continues to draw interest even as Facebook ramps up its events service.

Evite charges for an ad-free experience, but Cho is counting on the ad-based experience remaining the company’s emphasis. Ad-blockers and the rise of subscription-based services don’t yet represent an existential threat, he said.

“The fact this business has survived and thrived through fundamental shifts in technology is a testament to the brand, the experience and simplicity,” he said of Evite, founded in 1998.

Evite’s new fully open floor plan space at 600 Wilshire Blvd. is 18,800 square feet. Telepresence robots will roam the floor as Cho and workers at other offices chime in remotely. The company didn’t receive any subsidies from the city to make the move, it said.

USC business school to study ‘Internet of Things’

A USC think tank that pools ideas from companies such as Cisco Systems, Verizon and Deloitte plans to analyze whether connecting more devices to the Internet makes financial sense.

The development of the so-called Internet of Things is among the broad trends shaping the technology industry, and the USC Marshall Institute of Communication Technology Management wants to map out what that means for homes, businesses and governments.

Jerry Power, the institute’s executive director, said the goal is to model how costs and competitive pressures will affect the connected-gadgets market.

Elsewhere on the Web

Live entertainment start-up Two Bits Circus, which hopes to showcase virtual reality and other technologies at a miniature theme park in Los Angeles, raised $15 million, according to UploadVR.

Venture capital firm Raine Ventures, which regularly invests in Los Angeles media start-ups, has pooled $100 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Actress Sofia Vergara launched a new media company called Raze that has received venture capital funding, according to the Wrap.

In case you missed it

L.A.’s office market had its best quarter since the financial crisis as entertainment and tech firms kept expanding.

Seeking to quash a lawsuit from a former employee, Snap Inc. dismissed allegations that it lied to investors and advertisers about Snapchat usage as “false from top to bottom.”

Investment giant T. Rowe Price is disappointed that Snapchat’s co-founders want to retain disproportionate control over their company when it goes public.

Los Angeles venture capital firms CrossCut Ventures and Upfront Ventures are raising new pools of money to invest, according to Axios.

Coming up

The fourth annual AppSec California conference continues through Wednesday in Santa Monica featuring discussions about cybersecurity. Speakers come from Google, Tinder, Blizzard Entertainment and more.

paresh.dave@latimes.com

Twitter: @peard33

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