Twitter has allowed rampant accounts and posts that function as advertisements for commercial sex, pornography, and even the trading of child sexual abuse materials (i.e. child pornography).
Twitter has also failed to prioritize the safety of sex trafficking and child abuse survivors who are exploited on the app. Twitter must be held legally accountable, and it must introduce robust and proactive efforts to remove exploitation
It’s high time for Twitter to be held accountable under the law for putting profits before people. That why the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s Law Center, in partnership with The Haba Law Firm, and The Matiasic Firm have jointly filed a federal lawsuit against Twitter on behalf of a minor who was trafficked on the social media platform that boasts over 330 million users. Learn more here.
Survivor John Doe was only 16 when he discovered exploitative child sexual abuse materials of himself at age 13 were posted on Twitter. The video managed to accrue over 160,000 views before Twitter finally took it down—despite multiple reports from both John Doe and his mother verifying his status as a minor.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is dedicated to standing up for the survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation like John Doe. Our passionate legal team is helping bring a measure of justice to these brave individuals, and we won’t stop until Twitter and other companies like it are held fully accountable under the law.
Further, Twitter is being used to advertise prostituted persons and sex trafficking victims for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation, often via pornographic images or webcamming. Sometimes these tweets include offers to meet in person for “escorting” services, and sometimes they ask users to follow and pay for nude images, videos, or live streaming.
It has been documented by law enforcement that pimps and sex traffickers often either coerce trafficking or child sexual abuse victims into making such social media or advertising posts or create the posts themselves in their victim’s name. This is what was found to happen on Backpage.com—the notorious classifieds ads website that was recently shut down by the Department of Justice for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking.
Twitter is filled with pornography that supports rape myths, normalizes adult-with-teen-themed and incest-themed exploitation, and reinforces degrading racially charged sexual stereotypes. These include ads for prostitution webcamming and in-person encounters.
Disturbingly, recent news reports show that pedophiles are actively using Twitter to share information about accessing child sexual abuse images (i.e., child pornography).
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. As a result, the pornographic and prostitution-centric material on Twitter is 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.
In March of 2017, Twitter began blocking several pornography-related search terms from direct searches in the “Photos” and “Videos” section of the social media platform. This is a commendable step in the right direction, although searches using the same keywords in the general search tab are not blocked and turn up reams of sexually graphic and exploitive images and videos.
Further, in December of 2017, Twitter announced it would better enforcing its rules about abusive and hateful content. Twitter now intends to block “hateful content” as well as content that is degrading or abusive or promotes “sexist tropes” or that “reduce someone to less than human.”
In 2019, Twitter noted that “Media depicting sexual violence and/or assault is also not permitted.” This includes non-consensually shared sexual content, upskirting, deepfake pornography, and more. However, a Twitter spokesperson stated “Accounts that simply post adult content either to express their sexuality or their interests will not be suspended.” Considering the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to prove that pornography was consensual, and that it’s easy to sell and monetize pornography (even sex trafficked pornography) with a thin veil of ‘self-expression’, this is an anemic policy without any real-world effect.
Unfortunately, these efforts have not been enough to stem the rising flood of sexual exploitation on this platform.
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.
It’s time for Twitter to be held accountable.
WARNING: Any pornographic images have been blurred, but are still suggestive. There may also be graphic text descriptions shown in these sections.
Sex Trafficking and Prostitution On Twitter
As our society has increasingly entered the digital age, so have sex traffickers and pimps.
It is an accepted fact, supported by survivors of sex trafficking, that pornographic pictures and videos are used to advertise for both sex trafficking and prostitution victims (including minors.) Further, law enforcement is finding that many sex trafficking victims, [i] and child sexual abuse imagery (i.e. child pornography) victims, [ii] are coerced into creating livestream or webcam pornography as well.
Accounts posting and selling pornographic content, from images to videos to livestreams, and even requests for sugar baby/mommy dates, are undeniably flourishing on Twitter. The below screenshots were found on January 7, 2019—we did not include the more graphic posts of visually pornographic content, though these are easy for any user to stumble across.
Examples of Easily Identifiable Prostitution, & Likely Sex Trafficking, Advertisement Account
Examples of Tweets Advertising Prostitution & Likely Sex Trafficking
As long as Twitter continues to allow pornography, and fails to remove ads for sex acts (whether recorded, live streamed, or in person) it is impossible to distinguish between those that are allegedly willingly distributing pornographic content and those whose pages are being managed by a sex trafficker or pimp.
It has been documented by law enforcement that pimps and sex traffickers often either coerce trafficking or child sexual abuse victims into making such advertising posts, or create the posts themselves in their victim’s name. This is what was found to happen on Backpage.com—the notorious classifieds ads website that was recently shut down by the Department of Justice for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking.
[i] Sunshine de Leon, “Cyber-sex trafficking: A 21st century” 2013. scourgehttps://www.cnn.com/2013/07/17/world/asia/philippines-cybersex-trafficking/index.html
[ii] Martha Mendoza and Jim Gomez, “AP Exclusive: Big child webcam sex bust reveals rising abuse” 2017. https://www.apnews.com/74b81f79e9024124a1cfe43a0ce9eec2
Child-, Rape-, and Incest-Themed Porn via Twitter
There are rampant links to, accounts about, and videos of child-themed, incest-themed, and rape-themed pornography on Twitter. These are only a brief introduction to the kind of content being facilitated on Twitter's platform:
Incest-Themed Pornography (2019)
In the below two cases we see pictures of minors and/or adults posed to look like minors being used to advertise webcam pornography websites.
This is an example of tweets promoting and linking to an animated daddy daughter incest website, which shows an overlap between child-themed and incest-themed pornography.
Countless accounts advertise links to "forced sex" or "forced anal" pornography. Forced sex is rape-themed.
Incest-Themed Pornography (2018)
Live Webcam Sex Show Advertisements and Links
Twitter's Policy About Pornography
Twitter's policies on sexually explicit images and videos are convoluted and at times contradictory.
Contradictory Twitter Policy Against Pornography That Also Gives Caveat for "Some" Pornography:
Graphic violence and adult content
We consider graphic violence to be any form of gory media related to death, serious injury, violence, or surgical procedures. We consider adult content to be any media that is pornographic and/or may be intended to cause sexual arousal. Learn more about our media policy.
Twitter allows some forms of graphic violence and/or adult content in Tweets marked as containing sensitive media. [emphasis added] However, you may not use such content in your profile or header images. Additionally, Twitter may sometimes require you to remove excessively graphic violence out of respect for the deceased and their families if we receive a request from their family or an authorized representative. Learn more about how to make such a request, and how to mark your media as sensitive.
Twitter Further Defines Pornography Here:
We consider adult content to be any media that is pornographic and/or may be intended to cause sexual arousal. Some examples include, but are not limited to, depictions of:
- full or partial nudity (including close-ups of genitals, buttocks, or breasts)
- Please note that exceptions may be made for artistic, medical, health, or educational content. Breastfeeding content does not need to be marked as sensitive.
- simulating a sexual act
- intercourse or any sexual act (may involve humans, humanoid animals, cartoons, or anime)
Twitter Policy About Sharing Nude Images Without Consent:
About intimate media on Twitter
Twitter Rules: You may not post or share intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent.
Sharing explicit sexual images or videos of someone online without their consent is a violation of their privacy and one of the most serious violations of the Twitter Rules. In addition to posing serious safety and security risks, it may also result in physical, emotional, and financial hardship for the person whose media is shared.
When this applies
We prohibit the posting or sharing of intimate photos or videos that were or appear to have been taken or distributed without the subject's consent. Examples of intimate media that violate this policy include, but may not be limited to:
- hidden camera content involving nudity, partial nudity, and/or sexual acts
- images or videos that appear to have been taken secretly and in a way that allows the user to see the other person’s genitals, buttocks, or breasts (content sometimes referred to “creepshots” or “upskirts”)
- images or videos captured in a private setting and not intended for public distribution
- images or videos that are considered and treated as private under applicable laws
Some forms of consensual nudity and adult content are permitted on Twitter. When we review this type of content, it may not be clear whether it was produced or distributed consensually. To help prevent our teams from making a mistake and removing consensual intimate media, we may require a report from the actual subject or their authorized representative prior to taking any enforcement action. We will reply back to those reports via email and request that the subject provide documentation to verify their identity. Please note that this documentation will be destroyed once it is no longer needed by Twitter to evaluate the case and will not be shared with any third parties. We will not share any details about who reported this content with the violator.
This, however, does not apply to creepshots or upskirts, where we accept reports from bystanders — and do not require verifying documentation — as it is oftentimes difficult for victims of this content to identify themselves.
We will suspend any account we identify as the original poster of intimate media that has been produced or distributed without the subject’s consent. We will also suspend any account dedicated to posting this type of content.
If someone is not the original poster of this content, it is not clear that the content was produced or distributed without consent, and/or a person has an otherwise clean violation history, we may not suspend the account immediately. Instead, we will require the user to remove the violating Tweet(s) and temporarily lock them out of their account before they can Tweet again. We will immediately and permanently suspend them upon any further violations of this policy.
More Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Proof
Past NCOSE Letters to Twitter Executives
The below letters were written to Twitter executives by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation regarding their facilitation of pornography, prostitution, and sexual exploitation.
Note: some language and blurred out pictures in these letters may be disturbing.