Pedophiles and other predators go to Twitter to trade in criminal content such as child sexual abuse and nonconsensual pornography. The platform is rampant with accounts and posts functioning as advertisements for commercial sex—including prostitution.
Twitter fails to adequately respond to its victims, claiming it cannot be held accountable for disseminating illegal material. Twitter has even flatly refused to remove verified child sex abuse material from its site when asked by victims. Twitter must prioritize implementing robust and proactive efforts to remove sexual exploitation and abuse from its platform.
Twitter must be held legally liable. Read more below and take action!
It’s high time for Twitter to be held accountable under the law for putting profits before people. That is 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 two minors who were trafficked on the social media platform that boasts close to 400 million users.
Survivor John Doe #1 was only 16 when he discovered exploitative child sexual abuse materials of himself and his friend, John Doe #2, that had been created several years prior had been posted on Twitter. The video managed to accrue over 167,000 views in the first couple days and was live for nine days —despite multiple reports from both John Doe #1 and his mother verifying his status as a minor.
This lawsuit was brought in order to obtain damages for the harm that was experienced by John Doe #1 and John Doe #2, as well as hold Twitter accountable for violating anti-trafficking laws and hosting child sexual abuse material on their platform.
In Twitter’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit they stated that “the law does not punish a defendant [Twitter] for participation in a lawful venture with sex traffickers, or knowingly but passively receiving the financial benefits of sex trafficking.” The “lawful venture” Twitter references is, in fact, the illegal act of knowingly disseminating child pornography. Twitter would like the court to find that profiting from the exploitation of children online is a legal venture.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is dedicated to standing up for the survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation like John Doe #1 and John Doe #2. Our passionate legal team is helping bring a measure of justice to these brave individuals. In August, a federal judge ruled that a sex trafficking claim against Twitter could move forward. In his order (which you can read here), the Judge stated “these allegations are sufficient to allege an ongoing pattern of conduct amounting to a tacit agreement with the perpetrators in this case to allow them to post videos and photographs it knew or should have known were related to sex trafficking without blocking their accounts or the videos.” Currently, the case has been appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Learn more about the lawsuit here.
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.
Survivors’ and other experts’ concerns about Twitter’s platform are only exacerbated with the Super Follows function. Super Follows allows people to pay a subscription fee in order to follow their favorite Tweeters and receive extra and specialized content. With little to no monitoring or regulation, the Super Follows feature more closely resembles OnlyFans, a highly problematic pornography platform that law enforcement note for child sex abuse material, sex trafficking, prostitution and host of other crimes. Not only does it create another potential space for the proliferation of child sexual abuse materials, but it provides an avenue for pimps and pedophiles to pursue their illegal behaviors behind the security of a paywall (making it even harder to access).
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, news reports, studies, and NCOSE’s own investigations 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 user’s 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.
The most recent change Twitter has made (late in 2021) was a revision to their private information policy. This update is aimed at posted content that violates a person’s privacy. Twitter promises that if they are notified that a Tweet contains unauthorized private media (posted without a person’s consent), they will take action that is in line with their enforcement options. However, since it has been in place, the policy has failed to target sexual harassment because of its broad language.
Unfortunately, Twitter’s efforts have not been enough to stem the rising flood of sexual exploitation on this platform.
Twitter’s willful disregard of exploitive and explicit content on its platform 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. Even the UK has recognized that Twitter is a purveyor of pornography and adult content. As such, Twitter must comply with their country’s age verification requirement for sites containing pornographic content.
It is past time for Twitter to be held accountable for helping fuel the growing epidemic of child sex abuse material and sexual harassment against women, as well as the public health crisis that is pornography. The most vulnerable of our citizenry are the ones falling prey to Twitter’s inaction. It is time for Twitter to tenaciously step towards real proactive change that protects children, women, and minorities from further exploitation.