January 1, 2018

Twitter Has a History of Failing to Curb Sexual Exploitation on Its Platform

Twitter is responsible for doing its part to curb sexual exploitation, yet the company has by default shifted responsibility to report sexually graphic tweets or accounts onto the individual user. Of course, the copious amount of pornographic and prostitution-centric material on Twitter is overwhelming and beyond any users’ ability to avoid.

Whether an individual is “followed” on Twitter by a pornographic account, or sees pornographic images in “trending” topics, it is virtually impossible for a regular Twitter user to avoid sexually explicit content.

It’s time to #CleanUpTwitter.

Twitter’s lackadaisical approach to exploitive and explicit content has drawn attention in the past. For example, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith has urged that Twitter be investigated for its potential role in the sexual exploitation of women. Twitter has also raised the ire of government officials in Korea who formed a special task force against online distribution of pornography. They were especially concerned about a police investigation which caught 117 people distributing explicit sexual content via Twitter―33 of the distributors were elementary school children!

Included below is a list of news articles providing concrete illustrations of how Twitter has consistently failed to address the use of its site as a sexual exploitation marketplace.

  • How innocent photos of children have been exploited on Twitter”

November 28, 2016

Discusses the presence of a network of individuals on Twitter who trade innocent images of children (for sexual purposes), as well as child sexual abuse images (i.e. child pornography).

  • “Upper Chi Man Gets Long Prison Term in Child-Porn Case”

Daily Times News, September 23, 2016

A man was arrested for possessing 147 images and 27 videos of child sexual abuse. He was traced after distributing child sexual abuse images via Twitter.

  • “From Prostitutes to Politics: Brothel Owner’s Bid Questioned”

The Seattle Times, September 13, 2016

Brothel owner Dennis Hof is reported to tweet pornography to his 20,000 Twitter followers.

  • “Australia’s Adult Industry Using Twitter for Marketing”

SBS.com, May 31, 2015

Pornography performers who had accounts cancelled on Facebook and Instagram, report that they use Twitter instead. As the article states, “Twitter is the social media tool most used by the adult industry, because it has no filters.”

  • “‘It’s Easier on Twitter’: Going Deep into Indonesia’s Online Sex Trade”

Channel NewsAsia, May 17, 2016

Reports on the sex trade in Indonesia and Twitter’s role as a platform for advertising prostitution.

  • Exclusive: Anonymous Proves Twitter Does Little to Fight Child Pornography & ISIS”

February 2, 2016

Despite multiple reports from Twitter users, a Twitter account linked to child pornography remained up for several hours.

As these articles suggest, Twitter is a bastion of sexually explicit content of immense variety. Only a cursory survey of hashtags reveals copious amounts of pornography, links to pornography websites, links to virtual prostitution (commonly referred to as “cam girls”) websites, and prostitution sites (euphemistically referred to as “escorts”).

Twitter can make a difference.

There have been remarkable advances in filter technology in the past several years. Ronald DeHaas, President of Covenant Eyes, Inc., an Internet accountability and filtering company, confirms that when today’s filters are used to identify and block pornography, they are highly effective. In the Internet filtering industry, instances of overblocking are referred to as “false positives.” DeHaas reports that false positives have become so extremely rare as to be inconsequential. His company’s Internet filtering system is more than 99.9% successful in avoiding overblocking sites rated as pornography. Moreover, within the Internet filtering industry false negatives (i.e. underblocking) are more common than false positives, meaning that any error in the technology is more likely to result in a person accessing pornography than not being able to access legitimate content.

Twitter could make a remarkable difference, and promote a significant step forward in the fight against sexual exploitation and the public health harms of pornography, by employing such filtering software and therefore actively defending human dignity on its platform.

Further Reading

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