Sextortionists Target Teen Boys on Popular Social Media Platforms

Photo from Christian Erfurt via Unsplash

Sextortionists Target Teen Boys on Popular Social Media Platforms

By Movieguide® Contributor

Teen boys the top target for sextortion, and Instagram is the most common platform for the act, a new study reveals.

“The report, released jointly by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the anti-child sexual abuse technology company Thorn, reviews data on financial sextortion cases reported to NCMEC between 2020 and 2023,” NBC News reported Monday. “The number of reports of sextortion increased dramatically after 2022, up to more than 600 reports a week in the past year.”

Most of the victims in the new report were Americans, while some were from other nations.

Historically, girls have been the victim of sextortion. Recently, that’s changed.

Movieguide® reported this last October:

Experts are warning that the number of sextortion scams targeting young men has “exploded in the past couple of years.”

These scams involve a predator pretending to be a young girl who asks young men to send sexually explicit videos and photos. Once they’ve done so, the predator demands money from the men, or else they’ll release the content. 

“They ask the boys to do ridiculous things,” Supervisory Special Agent Barbara Smith of the FBI’s Washington Field Office said. “The more ridiculous the better because that’s going to be more humiliating, and the more humiliating it is, the more money they can extort from them.”

“Of the financial sextortion reports that were part of the study and contained data about gender and age, 90% of the victims were boys between the ages of 14 and 17,” NBC said.

The victims were most often catfished. In other words, the teenagers were led to believe they were interacting with a certain person but were actually interacting with someone hiding under a fake identity. The perpetrators receive explicit images or videos from teens and then use them for blackmail.

In a few of the cases, AI was used to create deepfake images or videos of the teens.

“The rise of financial sextortion has been linked to crime networks in Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, where the tactic has been promoted as a method to get rich quick,” NBC said.

“In reports where an offender threatened to distribute intimate imagery online, 81.3% threatened to disseminate the material on Instagram,” NBC reported. “In cases where material was actually disseminated online, 60% of the reports said it was disseminated on Instagram. YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat were also frequently named in threats to distribute, and Facebook was second behind Instagram as the platform where material was actually disseminated, accounting for 33.7% of such reports.”

A spokesperson for YouTube said, “We will review the report and take action on any content that violates our policies. We have strict policies in place to protect our users from scams and other harmful behaviors, and enforce them rigorously using a combination of human review and machine learning technology.”

Snapchat said, “We know that sextortion is a risk teens and adults face across a range of platforms, and have developed tools and resources to help combat it. We have extra safeguards for teens to protect against unwanted contact, and don’t offer public friend lists, which we know can be used to extort people. We also want to help young people learn the signs of this type of crime, and recently launched in-app resources to raise awareness of how to spot and report it.”

Instagram and Snapchat were the most common places teens received initial interaction from the sextortionists. After initial contact, the perpetrators often move to a second platform to receive the explicit content. Snapchat was used as a secondary platform in 35.8% of the cases while Google was used in 23.8%.

Instagram has a negative track record for illicit activities.

Last winter, a New Mexico attorney, General Raul Torres, sued Facebook and Instagram for their failure to protect children.

The Wall Street Journal produced a report about Instagram last year that said it’s “openly devoted to the commission and purchase of underage-sex content.”

The app has been a top concern for the National Center for Child Exploitation (NCOSE) for many years. The organization said the app has “become a haven for predators, facilitating grooming, child sexual abuse, sextortion, and sex trafficking with alarming notoriety.”

The organization also reported that it is the top platform where child sexual abuse material offenders spread child abuse content and the top place where they make contact with children.

The app is currently on NCOSE’s Dirty Dozen List, which annually names the top twelve national companies that exploit children.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg was also questioned about child safety on the app at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this year.

In a statement to NBC News, an Instagram spokesperson said: “Sextortion is a horrific crime. We work aggressively to fight this abuse and support law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting the criminals behind it. As NCMEC has noted, higher reporting numbers are often the result of a platform’s efforts to detect and report abusive content — and we’ve spent years doing both. We’ve already implemented many of the report’s recommendations, and recently announced a range of new features designed to help protect people from sextortion.”

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