A new call for big tech to do more about child sexual abuse content shared online

Who: The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P), with No Fixed Address for creative, strategy and PR, with 4Zero1 and Voyelles Films for production.

What: “Unwanted Followers,” a new short film depicting how victims of child sexual abuse can be tormented for many years afterwards if the abuse is recorded and shared online. The intent is to call on technology companies to do more to stop it.

When & Where: Originally created as an educational piece for the recent G7 summit, the video is now being shared with the wider public on YouTube and at ProtectChildren.ca.

Why: Video and images of child sexual abuse can be quickly and easily shared over the internet. Once posted online, the content can continue to be shared years later—often leading to the victim being traumatized for decades after the assault.

C3P has been focused on getting child sexual abuse material (CSAM) pulled from the internet, with its Project Arachnid leading to the removal of six million images and videos. But it says it could have done even more if tech companies “prioritized the online safety, privacy and protection of children and survivors.”

This new film is intended to raise awareness and put pressure on governments and tech platforms to take more action, with a powerful depiction of one victim being tormented by her abuser for years after her assault.

“Given the initial reactions and responses from the international community [at the G7], it was decided to share this video with the broader public,” said Trent Thompson, VP, creative director at No Fixed Address. “Now that the video is being shown outside conference doors, we hope the additional awareness it raises will ultimately help add pressure to major tech organizations to take more action.”

How: The video opens with a young girl sitting on a couch watching TV when a man walks in. He looks around nervously, but seems playful. He soon shows her a video recorder, and she nods and walks off screen, with the man following behind.

The rest of the ad shows the girl getting older, growing into an adult and eventually becoming a mother. But the man—frozen in time, in the same clothes and never getting older—follows her the whole time, lurking in the background, a spectre of the abuse she once suffered. At the same time, she gets real-world reminders from other “followers” that content of her being abused still floats around the internet.

“Haunted by the visual of survivors unable to escape their torment, we aimed to create a small glimpse into their experience for viewers to have a better understanding and rally together to demand change,” said Thompson, in a release introducing the video.

“When tech companies fail to remove child sexual abuse material that’s been shared online, survivors can be tormented for years,” says the closing super, before the introduction of Project Arachnid that directs viewers to ProtectChildren.ca/change to learn more.

And we quote: “The initial hands-on child sexual abuse was indescribable. The continued distribution of its recording, intolerable. It is for this exact reason we created Project Arachnid… For decades, tech’s response has been woefully inadequate, and through our work with No Fixed Address we aim to demand more to protect our children and future generations online.” —Lianna McDonald, executive director of C3P

David Brown