While many know Twitter as an innovator in social media communication, for years it has done little to stem the overwhelming tide of pornography and prostitution accounts on its site. In fact, media reports suggest that as many as 10 million Twitter accounts may include explicit sexual content. Twitter’s laisse-faire approach to sexually explicit content has gone on for far too long.
Twitter has come under fire recently 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.
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.
Twitter Made Progress in 2017
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.”
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!
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.
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