A birthday wish for Twitter to do more about child sexual abuse content

Who: Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P), with No Fixed Address and its New York office, Mischief at No Fixed Address, for creative, strategy and PR.

(Warning: the rest of this article contains content about child sexual abuse that may be upsetting to some.)

What: “Happy 15th birthday, Twitter,” an online PSA that demands Twitter do more to stop the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on its platform.

When & Where: The video went live on Thursday, posted to YouTube just ahead of Twitter’s 15th birthday on March 21. There’s also a website about the problem, as well as a Twitter hashtag: #TwitterBirthdayPlea. There’s no paid media, but, as expected, it’s getting amplified organically like this, this and this.

Why: According to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Twitter is ranked “poorly” compared to other social media platforms when it comes to ease of reporting CSAM.

Survivors report spending hours trying to have content removed, often having to report something more than once and getting automated responses to their concerns and “push back on their claims.” Based on National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children data from 2020, there has been a 41% increase in reports of CSAM on Twitter in one year.

Specifically, C3P says Twitter does not have an option to report CSAM directly from a Tweet; the child sexual exploitation report form is difficult to find; there is no option to report a user for sharing CSAM from a user name or profile page; and does not have an option to report such material shared directly from a DM.

“I’m not strong enough to take it down myself,” said one survivor. “It’s costing me my wellbeing, safety and maybe even my life. I’m tired. I shouldn’t find photos of myself as a child being raped when I’m just scrolling through my feed. I shouldn’t have to go looking for images of my own abuse. This isn’t my job.”

How: The key piece of the campaign is a nearly two-minute video called “Happy 15th birthday, Twitter,” featuring a handful of young adults speaking directly to camera. At first, they wish Twitter best wishes on turning 15, before the message and tone turns sharply. They recount disturbing stories of being abused as children by family and friends, and how their abuse was captured on video and shared on Twitter.

“The videos of me keep popping up on your platform,” says one. “People don’t realize how easy you make it for things to spread,” says another. The campaign uses actors to protect those who have already suffered abuse, but their words are representative of real problems C3P is trying to address.

“Twitter, it’s time to grow up and start protecting victims,” reads a super before the video ends with a push toward BirthdayPlea.com and the hashtag #TwitterBirthdayPlea.

“These survivors have had their childhoods torn from them—many much younger than the age Twitter is turning this year,” said Jordan Doucette, president of No Fixed Address, in a release. “We see the birthday as a symbol in which we can spark meaningful conversation that leads to tangible change by putting enough pressure on platforms like Twitter to do more to protect our children online.”

Twitter says… Asked to comment on the campaign, Twitter provided a statement which reads in part: “Twitter has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation content. We aggressively fight online child sexual abuse and have heavily invested in technology and tools to enforce our policy” (see the full statement below). A spokesperson also pointed to Twitter’s online form to report child sexual exploitation. When asked about the specific concerns of C3P that the process is not as simple or efficient as it could be, Twitter declined to provide additional comment.

What about marketers? “We debated a campaign that tries to rally the advertising community,” said NFA chief executive officer Dave Lafond. For now they chose this approach to raise mass awareness and appeal directly to Twitter, with stories that vividly and powerfully portray the problem. “The only time the tech platforms seem to listen is when the survivors recount their re-victimization,” he said. Twitter reported about $3.2 billion in advertising revenue in 2020.

And we quote: “At 15 children should be celebrating their birthday, not desperately attempting to locate and report their own abusive imagery and videos. Survivors have even resorted to impersonating a parent or a lawyer when reporting and sometimes working with other users to ‘crowdsource’ the report. All of these desperate efforts are an attempt to have quicker action and stop the spread of their own harmful content.” ” — Lianna McDonald, executive director for C3P.

Full Twitter statement: “Twitter has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation content. We aggressively fight online child sexual abuse and have heavily invested in technology and tools to enforce our policy. Our dedicated teams work to stay ahead of bad-faith actors and to ensure we’re doing everything we can to remove content, facilitate investigations, and protect minors from harm — both on and offline. We disclose information about the broad action we take under our rules every six months as a part of the Twitter Transparency Report, detailing how many accounts we remove — the vast majority of which are detected proactively through our internal tools and technology.”

David Brown