Protecting children from sexual exploitation is a low priority for Twitter and the DOJ
Since when has the protection of the innocence, dignity and safety of children not been a priority? Apparently, in 2022: New claims from an FBI whistleblower have brought to light an alleged policy shift redirecting vital government resources aimed at investigating and prosecuting offenses related to child sexual abuse materials to focus on the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
In 2021, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 29.3 million (up 35 percent over 2020) CyberTipline reports containing over 85 million images, videos and other content related to suspected sexual exploitation of children as young as infants and toddlers. With the U.S. ranking second globally in hosting URLs which contain child sexual abuse material — and being a top consumer and producer of this content — why is the government not allocating more resources to combat these heinous crimes against our most innocent citizens, instead of taking them away?
Just recently, more than 30 major brands — including Mazda, PBS Kids, Dyson, Forbes and DIRECTV — suspended their marketing campaigns or removed their ads from parts of social media giant Twitter’s platform after learning their promotions appeared alongside tweets soliciting child sexual abuse material. Company executives were “horrified” to learn that sexually exploitative tweets, including those with keywords related to “rape” and “teens,” appeared alongside their company’s promoted tweets.
In one example, a promoted tweet for shoe and accessory brand Cole Haan appeared next to a tweet in which a user said they were “trading teen/child” content. Brand President David Maddocks told Reuters, “Either Twitter is going to fix this, or we’ll fix it by any means we can, which includes not buying Twitter ads.”
Despite Twitter’s claim of having “zero tolerance” for child sexual exploitation, its seeming lack of immediate action to identify and promptly remove child sexual abuse material has been a longstanding issue, according to a court case filed against it. Twitter deserves a big fat “F” for its failure to respond to victims whose videos and pictures of torturous child sex abuse appear on its platform.
A federal lawsuit has been filed against Twitter on behalf of two minors who were allegedly trafficked on their site. The suit claims that illegal images of the minors were posted and shared on Twitter’s platform. The videos of both plaintiffs reportedly accumulated 167,000 views before law enforcement intervened and Twitter took the video down. The suit goes on to allege that when initial complaints were made to Twitter, instead of removing the exploitative videos, it did nothing, even reporting back to the family of one of the minors that the video in question did not in fact violate any of their policies.
To make matters worse, Twitter features a ”thriving exchange of pornographic imagery,” according to a Reuters report, which comprises approximately 13 percent of all of its content. “Pornography and other forms of consensually produced adult content are allowed on Twitter, provided that this media is marked as sensitive,” according to the company.
Even though most mainstream internet pornography is not protected under the First Amendment due to obscenity laws, children under the age of 10 now account for 22 percent of online porn consumption among those under the age of 18 while 10-to 14-year-olds make up 36 percent of minor consumers, according to security technology company Bitdefender.
For nearly two decades, this reprehensible reality has been due to the failure of the Department of Justice to prosecute Big Porn for even the most egregious violations of obscenity law including themes depicting teen rape, incest, torture, group sex and strangulation. In spite of the fact that the DOJ has an entire department, the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, whose mandate is to aggressively prosecute all laws designed to prevent child exploitation, DOJ gets an “F” for its failure to do so.
Thankfully, Congress is on the move. As a result of Enough Is Enough’s advocacy efforts, a House Committee included the following language in its committee report directed to the DOJ:
“Federal obscenity prosecution … Such enforcement is necessary to protect the welfare of families and children as traffickers in illegal adult obscenity seek to extend their influence through advances in technology. The Committee directs DOJ to increase its efforts in enforcing Federal obscenity laws.”
The Senate is also aggressively working in a bipartisan fashion to address the impunity of Big Tech’s failure to prioritize the safety of children online with three important bills passing unanimously out of committee, including the EARN IT Act (Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act), introduced by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn). If enacted, EARN IT will remove blanket immunity from liability for social media and technology companies that knowingly facilitate the distribution of child sexual abuse materials on their platforms.
Protecting children in the digital world requires each sector to do its part. The government must prioritize the prevention of online exploitation of children, allocate necessary funding for the prosecution of offenders and aggressively enforce all existing laws (including obscenity laws) designed to protect children online. Big Tech must prioritize child safety over profit and implement technologies that are safer by design. Parents must demand accountability from Big Tech and the government so they don’t have to shoulder the entire burden of protecting their children in the digital world.
We can and must do better to protect our children, they deserve nothing less.
Donna Rice Hughes is the CEO and president of Enough Is Enough, a non-profit nonpartisan organization fighting to make the Internet safer for children and families since 1994. . She is also an author, speaker, and the Emmy-nominated host and executive producer of the Emmy-Award-winning “Internet Safety 101” PBS series. www.internetsafety101.org; www.enough.org