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.
(The Problem Continued)
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.
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.
It’s time for Twitter to be held accountable.
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.
Post on Social Media
You can help raise awareness about these issues by sharing this webpage and blogs on social media with the hashtag #CleanUpTwitter.
Protected: Stay updated on these projects
When John Doe was only 13 years old, a tragic series of events unfolded that he was powerless to stop and Twitter made money off his most traumatic moments. It is on behalf of John Doe and countless other survivors like him that the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center—along with The Haba Law…
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Twitter, one of the most popular social media sites in the world with over 330 million users, has had a hand in the sexual exploitation of countless victims of abuse, coercion, and objectification on their platform. It is on behalf of one of these victims, John Doe, that the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law…
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On October 1, 2020, Dr. Eleanor Gaetan, Director of Public Policy at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), testified in front of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence. The task force, which includes Representatives Annie Kuster (D-NH), Susan Davis (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH), and John Katko (R-NY), was holding a virtual roundtable…
Share Your Story
It can be painful to share stories of sexual exploitation or harm, and sometimes it’s useful to focus on personal healing first. But for many, sharing their past or current experiences may be a restorative and liberating process. This is a place for those who want to express their story.