According to a report by Internet Watch Foundation, based out of the United Kingdom, almost half of the total child sexual abuse content posted online on web platforms is shared on Twitter. Statistics reveal that 49 per cent of the images, videos and URL links it found on social media, search engines and cloud services in the last three years were on Twitter, making up 1,396 of the total 2,835 incidents found.
However, child protection activists assert that these 1396 instances can mean hundreds and thousands of images and videos as they include URLs linking back to child abuse websites. The IWF has only revealed figures for the number of incidents that had been verified as child abuse by human analysts, instead of the total number of reports discovered by its scanning software or from the public, which means that the actual number might be inevitably higher.
The IWF stated that just knowing where the objectionable content is posted is not a reliable indicator for where the imagery was created and the harms facing the vulnerable kids. The UK’s online abuse watchdog, IWF detects child abuse material on the open internet, which means all the abuse images and videos found had eluded tech companies’ filters and were available for anyone to see it. The IWF cannot look at, or take action on, any child sexual abuse material within peer-to-peer networks like Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp, or other similar peer-to-peer networks.
In 2018, less than 1 per cent of total child sexual abuse was hosted through social media websites while image hosting sites represented 82% of all child sexual abuse imagery identified by IWF.
Though there is a marked decrease in Twitter’s share of total child abuse content shared on social media websites over the years, the tech giant still has a long way to go in order to curb the use of its platform by miscreants for linking URLs back to child abuse websites. In 2016, about 59% of the total child abuse material posted on social media website was on Twitter, while in 2017 it was 52% and 49% in 2018.
However, one of the alarming facts is that the total number of instances of child abuse material being detected on social media is steadily increasing. From 742 incidents in 2016 to 1016 in 2017 and 1077 in 2018, meaning other social media platforms are being used to share the objectionable abuse content.
Besides Twitter, Google, Bing, Facebook, Amazon and other popular websites were also found to be hosting URLs linking to child abuse imageries and videos. Bing was second in terms of total number of child sexual abuse URLs hosted by it. It had 604 recorded instances between 2016 to 2018, while third in the list was Amazon with 375 recorded incidents in the same time span.
Acknowledging the menace of child abuse, IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE said: “The IWF secures the removal of millions of images and videos showing the sexual abuse of children from the open internet and we’re proud of the work we do to protect children from a lifetime of suffering. The vast majority of child sexual abuse imagery we find is linked to darker places of the internet, hosted in countries outside of the UK, on platforms not commonly known about.”
A large number of websites detected by IWF hosting child abuse content are purposely created to host child abuse images and videos. In 2018, the foundation took down 105,047 URLs hosting child abuse material.
The UK’s leading children charity, NSPCC, asserted that the fact that thousands of images were being hosted openly on popular web platforms underlines the urgent need of the government regulator to scrutinise the children safety measures of these websites. The Uk government, on the other hand, had claimed that it plans to introduce a statutory duty of care on tech giants to better protect its users.