For years, Twitter has done little to stem the overwhelming tide of sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography accounts on its site. In fact, media reports suggest that as many as 10 million Twitter accounts may include explicit sexual content.
Twitter prides itself as being a platform for “free expression” yet refuses to remove accounts posting likely advertisements for sexual slavery.
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.
Further, Twitter has come under fire for the vast amount of cyber-based sexual harassment, revenge pornography, and even sexually exploited images of children on its platform. We know that pornography is inherently tied to cyber-based sexual harassment, whether in the form of revenge pornography, being spammed with pornography, or having one’s virtual identity co-opted by tags to pornography.
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 have also begun migrating to Twitter, and no doubt use Direct Messages and other tools to share information about accessing child sexual abuse images (i.e., child pornography).
To be removed from the Dirty Dozen List, we ask Twitter to initiate a program to sweep through images and keywords to remove accounts, Periscope streams, and web links that include pornographic material or advertisements for pornographic material and/or prostitution.
Also, Twitter should improve its reporting system so users can specifically report accounts or tweets posting prostitution or pornographic materials or links.
These are common sense improvements that Twitter can take to enforce its existing policies against pornographic content and to proactively ensuring its platform is a safe, user-friendly, environment.
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.”
Unfortunately, these efforts have not been enough to stem the rising flood of sexual exploitation on this platform.
Twitter’s Opportunity to Properly Enforce Its New Policies
In order to cohesively enforce its new policies, and to promote the wellbeing and gender equity of its users, Twitter must recognize that pornography is overtly sexist, objectifying, and sexually exploitative.
Pornography and prostitution reduce women to be less than human – to be sexual objects whose sole purpose is to be consumed by the public.
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!
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.
Warning: graphic text and pixilated images used to show Twitter executives the proof of exploitation on their platform.
Report Exploitive Content
We strongly advise that you do not go on Twitter looking for accounts or images or videos to report. Twitter is often inconsistent in removing exploitive material, so it is not worth intentionally exposing yourself to such content.
However, if you see child sexual exploitation or pornography on Twitter by accident, click here to review the reporting processes Twitter currently has available.
Take Action: Email Twitter Executives
Post on Social Media
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation rarely advocates for boycotts. Instead, we work to raise awareness and to change corporate policies.
You can help raise awareness about the need for Twitter to improve its policies by posting these graphics with the hashtag #CleanUpTwitter across all social media platforms.
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*This blog is the second in a series for Internet Safety Month 2020. The first part covers current actions NCOSE supports in order to fight for internet safety. This second part covers progress that still needs to be made on this front.* As designated by the U.S Senate, June is National Internet Safety Month in…
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