How your child’s cell phone may be a Trojan horse for sexual predators

Who: The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P), with agency partner No Fixed Address (NFA) for creative, strategy, media and PR; C3P for paid social media; Animals TV for production; Darling VFX for post-production; and Berkeley Inc. for audio

What: “The Horse,” a 60-second PSA utilizing the Trojan horse analogy to spotlight the threats that children face through their digital devices. The new short film kicks off a global call-to-action campaign inciting parents and concerned citizens to demand legislative change to regulate online platforms to protect children.

When & Where: The film was released on Oct. 24 during Cybersecurity Awareness Month and will circulate globally through media placements in movie theatres, major daily publications and online platforms.

The campaign is backed internationally by several like-minded organizations including 5Rights Foundation, Fairplay, ECPAT Sweden, Suojellaan Lapsi, Innocence in Danger Germany and The Marie Collins Foundation, who will share the film on their own channels.

Why: Reports of online sexual luring targeting Canadian children have risen to never-before-seen levels, according to data collected by C3P.

Between 2018 and 2022, submissions to, the organization’s tipline for reporting online child sexual abuse and exploitation in Canada, increased from 220 to 2,013, representing a massive 815% increase. Currently, receives an average of 50 sextortion reports per week, and 84% of those incidents occurred on Instagram or Snapchat.

“We’re handing kids technology that is being weaponized against them by predators, and there are no laws in place to keep them safe the same way we protect kids offline,” said C3P’s executive director Lianna McDonald in a press release. “We need all Canadians—especially parents—calling on the government to regulate the platforms that are letting offenders right into our children’s bedrooms.”

Previous campaigns from C3P have focused pressure on global tech companies to put measures in place to stop the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online.But a lack of real action caused C3P to change its tactics and ask governments and legislators to get involved. “Tech companies have had 20 years to make their services safe, and yet they continue to fail to prioritize children and youth,” C3P’s associate executive director Signy Arnason,told The Message.

“The tech lobby industry is very loud in this space,” said Arnason. “We need to make sure that governments also know what parents/guardians believe should happen to keep their kids safe online.”

How: The short film, directed by award-winning Canadian director Meredith Hama-Brown, is filmed in one continuous shot down the hallway of a typical looking home late at night. While the camera draws closer to a child seemingly safely asleep in her bed, a menacing narrator reminds the viewer of the story of the Trojan horse–a deceptive symbol of peace from the ancient Greeks to the city of Troy during the Trojan war. “In the night, while they danced and drank, the Greeks climbed out of the horse and opened the gates. And in came all the soldiers,” he says, as the young girl is awoken by a notification on her phone.

As the spot ends, the super reads “Today’s Trojan Horse looks different. And it’s in every child’s hand.” It’s followed by a push to where viewers can access more statistics and participate in a short survey about online safeguards for children.

“We set out to capture the scenario that keeps every parent up at night… And “The Horse” is a chilling reminder that it’s real and it’s happening.” said NFA chief creative officer Alexis Bronstorph in a press release.

The Trojan horse story is so well known that it has become a shorthand for the dangers of concealed intentions, added NFA’s copywriter Allegra Wiesenfeld.

“In The Horse, we use that instant connection to drive home the magnitude of what we’re facing online. It’s an ancient myth, but the themes are relevant in a whole new way in 2023 with the rise of unregulated online platforms, and the open gates that leaves for predators to target children,” she said.

Quote: “Clearly there are safety gaps that are not being addressed by tech companies, or we would not continue to see online sexual exploitation and violence towards children continue to escalate year after year.” —C3P’s associate executive director Signy Arnason

Emma Johnston-Wheeler