Originally Published at Bloomberg
By Todd Shields
The teen was in high school when his secret spilled onto the internet, driving him to consider suicide: classmates were viewing sexual images of him and a friend on Twitter that child pornographers had duped him into sending.
The videos remained visible for more than a week as the teen and his mother pleaded with Twitter Inc. to block the material, according to a lawsuit filed on the teen’s behalf. The complaint alleges the company acted only after the images drew 167,000 views and leering comments from Twitter users, with some remarking on how young the pictured victims appeared to be.
Targets of online exploitation and harassment say they sometimes face indifference from platforms that operate under protection of a decades-old U.S. law that limits liability for content their users post online. The law has drawn protests from Republicans and Democrats who allege it has been used by the platforms to mishandle political speech. Now, child advocates and families say the provision has permitted companies to dodge responsibility for online harassment and even sexual exploitation.
Less prominent in the debate have been private victims, such as the youth whose photos were still circulating even after his parents say they brought it to the attention of Twitter.
“It was deeply shocking, and traumatizing,” said Peter Gentala, an attorney for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. The nonprofit group, along with two law firms and the teen’s mother, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the youth, identified as John Doe in the filings.
“John Doe is in the difficult and sad position of looking for accountability because Twitter didn’t follow its own policy, or even the law,” Gentala said. “When you hear the largest companies in the world say, ‘We can’t be held responsible for this,’ it’s small wonder you see consensus building among lawmakers” to consider changes.