Is Putting the Screws to a Nonprofit a Sign of Bigger Ethical Problems at Snapchat?

Last week, NPQ covered a story about NPR updating its ethics policies with regard to donors and sponsors, and we have previously reported on Craig Newmark’s grant to the Poynter Institute that’s meant to invest in updated ethical standards for journalism in this new digital environment. As is the case in many fields, ethical protocols often trail technological advances, and journalism is no exception. But, that is no excuse for strong-arming nonprofit partners using the thin veil of older standards. Perhaps Snapchat has not been watching consumer reactions to a perceived lack of integrity on the part of tech organizations? (That’s as in Uber, naturally.)

According to emails leaked to Mic, Snapchat’s head of political sales, Rob Saliterman, reached out to Everytown for Gun Safety in early 2016, offering advertising space on Snapchat during Everytown’s #WearOrange event on National Gun Violence Awareness Day. For $150,000, Snapchat would offer custom filters and lenses to users, raising the event’s online visibility.

At the same time, Snapchat’s news team was trying to take advantage of Everytown’s star-studded presence in the anti-gun violence movement. Everytown is backed by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the #WearOrange event featured participation from such celebrities as Sarah Silverman and Chuck Schumer. The editorial team at Snapchat offered Everytown a free partnership for the event, raising both organizations’ profiles and allowing users to see video stories from gun violence survivors and affected families.

Saliterman and the sales team were not aware of the proposed partnership until mid-May. Everytown, of course, had decided to save $150,000 and go ahead with the partnership — but advertising spaces were still available, and Saliterman made a desperate gamble. According to Mic,

“I just learned our News Team is doing a Live Story on National Gun Violence Awareness Day,” Saliterman’s message began. “I would urgently like to speak with you about advertising opportunities within the story, as there will be three ad slots. We are also talking to the NRA about running ads within the story.”

Everytown couldn’t afford the $150,000 advertising rate, but they didn’t want NRA advertisements run next to videos of people who had lost loved ones to gun violence, so they backed out of the whole deal. Snapchat ran a “Guns In America” story without their celebrity profiles, and National Gun Violence Awareness Day proceeded without Snapchat users’ being able to participate via the app.

Saliterman defended his actions, saying,

To be clear, the story has the potential to be bought by any advertiser, including the NRA, which will enable the advertiser to run three 10-second video ads within the story. This is analogous to how any advertiser could buy advertising in a TV news program about violence. The advertising will not impact the editorial content within the story as our teams are independent.

Clearly, Snapchat has not updated its ethics protocols to account for the latest nuances of effective firewalls. Disingenuous statements like these should by now be so unpersuasive to Snapchat’s community of advertisers that any nonprofit considering doing a story with them or advertising with them should proceed advisedly. Everytown is due an apology for what seems a lot like an act of bald-faced arm-twisting. — Erin Rubin

Originally published at on March 6, 2017.