Parent calls for guidelines after David Seymour's historic Snapchat messages to teen daughter

A parent is calling for guidelines around how politicians communicate directly with young people on social media.

She's concerned after finding out David Seymour replied to Snapchat messages from her then-14-year-old daughter and other teens back in 2016.

Both the ACT leader and the students say the content was not inappropriate. But the mother says the fact a much older politician was direct messaging them at all is bizarre.

Seymour says he was just being courteous.

A former Epsom Girls Grammar student has told Newshub she was 14 when she started messaging David Seymour on the app.

It was 2016, and Snapchatting the politician had become common schoolyard fun.

Newshub was sent videos of young people crowded around a phone, opening a message and cheering with delight to see Seymour had responded with a photo. 

She said it was a joke for her and her friends, who sent messages to him frequently.

"It was kind of talked about between high schools in Auckland that if you were to Snapchat David Seymour, he would reply basically no matter what. And, you know, the rumours were true - he would reply to everything."

Snapchat allows users to send messages and images that last a few seconds before they're automatically deleted.

She would always initiate the messaging, and Seymour would sometimes reply on consecutive days making what Snapchat calls a 'streak'.

"I sent him a selfie of me and a bunch of my girlfriends at 15, drinking Vodka Cruisers. A selfie with us all holding them, saying 'oh - come to my party - come to my party'. This was his response."  

It was a selfie of Seymour, with the message "Can't I'm afraid but you guys have a great night and be safe".

Seymour replied to one invitation from her: "Hope you are not in trouble! Awww, thanks for the invite!"

Her mother had no idea about the messaging at the time and said any parent would be uncomfortable with their teenager messaging a 30 or 40-year-old man.

"I honestly just find the whole thing quite bizarre," she told Newshub.

"[My daughter] re-iterated many times that there was nothing inappropriate in the messages themselves - but I think that contact, direct, one-on-one, and particularly over Snapchat, is inappropriate.

"He must have had many many many messages come through, and it's like - who's actually got the time and the energy to do that? I just find the whole thing really weird."

A former Auckland Grammar Student also spoke to Newshub, saying he messaged Seymour when he was 15. He said, at the time, it was hilarious.

"I was like, 'yes. Thank you'. And I remember going around school that day and showing everyone David Seymour had replied to me. It was a big deal, back then."

He said the messages from Seymour were never inappropriate.

"Everything was done in good faith," he told us. 

"I couldn't see any kind of ulterior motive except for getting the student vote, but that's kind of obvious. But - yeah, there was no malevolence behind it or anything, I think I'd like to get that out there, and at the time talking to him I felt very safe and comfortable."

But now he's in his early 20s, his feelings about whether MPs should be able to communicate directly with minors have changed.

"Yeah, having an adult have such free access to so many students is, yeah. I don't like it all. Regardless of what they talked about."

Seymour is making no apologies for replying to the students, saying he was being courteous.

"I've done absolutely nothing wrong other than be responsive using the technology of the time," Seymour told reporters on Tuesday.

"I've always sought to behave the same online as I am in person. Courteous, responsive, and polite. School kids come up to me and ask for selfies, I think it would be a terrible thing if New Zealand got to the stage where I had to say 'no sorry - you don't have permission from your parents'."

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub

Seymour continued that there is also an optics difference between men and women.

"Female MPs can go into situations with children and, you know, grab someone else's baby, and it's seen as a really positive thing. I think sometimes people don't see a male MP doing it that way," he said.

"I'd just say to people you might want to be very very careful about trading on innuendo which is totally unfounded and untrue, without which I don't know if there'd be much of a story."

It's a response that doesn't sit well with the parent who spoke to Newshub, who wants a change in how politicians can communicate with children.

She told Newshub she wants "some kind of guidelines or rules, regulations in place, so this sort of thing doesn't happen and isn't allowed to happen".

Seymour said he barely uses Snapchat anymore, saying other social media sites are more relevant.

He said people are often worried about the lack of political engagement with youth, and now there's a politician who is willing to engage.

It's not the first time that perhaps generational differences or social media judgement have landed MPs in this exact debate.

National MP Chris Bishop told media in 2018 he'd changed his Snapchat settings after learning some parents were 'unsure' about his communications with young people.

Seymour has made no such promise.

The people we spoke to for this story wanted their privacy respected, due to Seymour's political position.