Lawsuit: Twitter Enables, Profits From Child Pornography on Platform
By Movieguide® Staff
Editor’s note: This story contains some discussion of sexual abuse.
Twitter faces a federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of a teenager, which claims that the social media giant waited to remove sexually graphic videos involving minors posted to the platform by sex traffickers.
The lawsuit—filed on Jan. 20, 2021, in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California—withheld the minor’s name but identified him as a 16-year-old Florida resident.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), the Haba Law Firm, and the Matiasic Firm will represent the teenager, who the legal document labels as John Doe.
According to the plaintiff and his parents, Twitter refused to remove the video, which depicted the boy’s sexual abuse at age 13, from their platform of more than 300 million users upon their initial complaint.
“This lawsuit seeks to shine a light on how Twitter has enabled and profited from [child pornography] on its platform, choosing profits over people, money over the safety of children, and wealth at the expense of human freedom and human dignity,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit also states that after the sex traffickers recruited Doe and the minor escaped, Twitter allowed the videos’ distribution across their platform.
NCOSE alleges that Twitter refused to remove the video content from their site and instead claimed it did not violate company policy.
As a direct result of Twitter’s complacency, the videos gained over 167,000 views and over 2,200 retweets.
“When Twitter was first alerted to this fact and John Doe’s age, Twitter refused to remove the illegal material and instead continued to promote and profit from the sexual abuse of this child,” the lawsuit reads.
Law enforcement’s involvement eventually pressed Twitter to remove the content.
NCOSE Senior Legal Counsel Peter Gentala argues that Twitter allows for “numerous profiles, posts, comments, and other content either advertising, soliciting, or depicting” child sexual abuse.
“As John Doe’s situation makes clear, Twitter is not committed to removing child sex abuse material from its platform,” Gentala added. “Even worse, Twitter contributes to and profits from the sexual exploitation of countless individuals because of its harmful practices and platform design. Despite its public expressions to the contrary, Twitter is swarming with uploaded child pornography and Twitter management does little or nothing to prevent it.”
The lawsuit claims that in 2017 Doe sent naked photos via Snapchat to a user he falsely believed attended the same school. After threatening to blackmail the 13-year-old, Doe began to comply with the anonymous user’s demands.
“After he did so the correspondence changed to blackmail,” the court document states. “Now the Traffickers wanted more sexually graphic pictures and videos of John Doe, and recruited, enticed, threatened and solicited John Doe by telling him that if he did not provide this material, then the nude pictures of himself that he had already sent would be sent to his parents, coach, pastor, and others in his community.”
After Doe provided the account with sexual acts of himself and with a fellow minor, he blocked the account. However, in 2019 the video content appeared on Twitter.
“Eventually, through a mutual contact, Jane Doe was able to connect with an agent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” the lawsuit states. “The federal agent also initiated contact with Twitter and at the request of the U.S. federal government, the CSAM was finally removed from Twitter on or about Jan. 30, 2020.”
The non-profit NCOSE listed Twitter on their annual Dirty Dozen List, which lists organizations that are complicit in “perpetuating” sexual exploitation in any form.
“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,” the 2020 Dirty Dozen List explains. “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.”
Twitter claims that they follow strict policies that address non-consensual nudity, private information sharing, and child sexual exploitation.
While other platforms like Parler were removed from the Internet by big tech for their “lack of moderation” and alleged incitement to violence, it is paramount that the same level of scrutiny applies to Silicon Valley’s infrastructure of moderators.
As Movieguide® reported previously, media discernment helps to protect children and holds large companies like Twitter accountable.
Movieguide® recently reported on the significant strides in fighting sex trafficking with the Pornhub takedown late last year:
This is not a new idea, nor has it gone unnoticed by organizations who actively fight against it, such as Exodus Cry—an international non-profit fighting human trafficking. But the report is a major victory in bringing this issue to the attention of the mainstream media.
Movieguide® emphasizes the importance of media discernment, and this is one step in the right direction. However, there is always more work to be done.
An incorrect view of love, sex and relationship is not only portrayed in the bowels of sex industry companies like Pornhub. Many movies, TV shows and video games—that corporations pawn off as “normal” for children and young adults—are also engrained with similar vices.