Is it illegal for an adult to post sexually explicit content on a social media platform that minors also use?  Like if an adult on Twitter posts pictures or videos of their penis?

Great question! It is NOT illegal for an adult to post sexually explicit content on a public platform. However, different laws apply if the account is intended for minors (people under the age of 18, who are not legal adults), if the adult sends the content directly to a minor, or if the adult tags or @s a minor in the post. These actions are illegal, and the adult could be charged with distributing obscene materials to a minor.

Some platforms don’t allow minors to use them in order to avoid legal trouble. Many have language in their Term & Conditions like Twitter’s, which says, “You understand that by using the Services, you may be exposed to Content that might be offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate,” in order to protect themselves from legal action.

However, different social media platforms have different rules about nudity and sexually explicit content, so even if it’s not illegal, the adult could have their account frozen or get banned from the platform. Facebook and Instagram have rules against nudity (with some exceptions, like for breastfeeding, mastectomy scars and art). Twitter requires certain adult content to be marked as “sensitive media,” and may remove it under certain circumstances. Snapchat prohibits accounts that “distribute pornographic content,” but allows nudity in “non-sexual contexts.”

If someone’s posts make you uncomfortable, it’s definitely a good idea to unfollow them. Consider blocking or muting them, too. If you think they may be breaking the social media platform’s community guidelines, report them. If someone is direct messaging explicit content to you (or tagging you in posts with explicit content), tell a trusted adult like a parent, school counselor, teacher or doctor. This is illegal, and an adult can help you figure out the best next steps. You can also report them on the social media platform. As a result, their accounts may be frozen or they may be banned from the platform. This way, they can’t harass others in the same way.

If you live in NYC and aren’t sure who to talk to or what to do next, you can come to the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Our legal advocates from Youth Represent can help you figure out the best next steps for you.