SAN FRANCISCO (ChurchMilitant.com) - Twitter systematically failed to remove child pornography from its platform for years, allowing accounts to operate with impunity.
The revelations came from Andrea Stroppa, who works on Twitter's Trust and Safety Council, who published a series of tweets about the council's recent findings Friday night.
"We found several accounts that shared CSAM [child sexual abuse material], including videos of children and teens involved in sexual activities," he wrote, explaining that ">95% of these accounts were created before Elon Musk bought Twitter. Some of these accounts have been active for years (even since 2017)."
"These accounts that shared CSAM acted with impunity for years," he noted. "The contents of these accounts obtained over ten million views on Twitter. Yes, 10.000.000 views."
"They won't get any new views because Twitter has now taken down all these accounts," he added.
Prior to Elon Musk's takeover, Twitter refused to suspend most of the accounts posting criminal content, opting instead to delete the offending posts while allowing the accounts to remain active.
Stroppa co-authored a 17-page report in September titled "Child Porn on Twitter," which accused prior Twitter executives of "doing next to nothing to fix" the problem of CSAM on its platform.
"Twitter is known to have very permissive policies regarding pornographic content and indeed such content is easy to find on the platform," the report noted. "However, our research shows something much more troublesome: in the initial 20 days of September 2022, over 500 accounts shared, requested and/or publicly exchanged child pornography material."
Eliza Bleu, a victim of human trafficking who now works as a child victims' advocate, took part in a Twitter Spaces discussion Friday night discussing Twitter's failure to prioritize child porn while spending resources on censoring voices that expressed political viewpoints Twitter did not approve of.
"I watched folks get banned over using words that aren't even illegal to use," Bleu said. "The child sexual abuse material had been on Twitter for four years, 10 million views, and yet if you said certain words, especially during the pandemic, especially during an election season, you were removed instantly."
Her words echoed an earlier tweet that day: "Twitter prioritized the censorship of non-illegal speech over the removal of child sexual abuse material at scale. Let that sink in."
It led to confirmation from Musk: "Exactly correct."
Exactly correct.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2022
Musk later joined the Twitter Spaces discussion, confirming that he is making the elimination of child porn his first priority.
"I was actually really shocked to learn about it," he said, going on to say that "literally top priority in the whole company is that Twitter cannot be used for child exploitation."
Bleu, who has been highly critical of Twitter's failures to protect children on its platform, had high praise for Musk.
"I think this is a new day and time for Twitter," said Bleu, later adding, "You've blown my mind. And I was Twitter's biggest hater. ... You will see children's lives are saved as a result of these changes on Twitter."
Friday's revelations centered on Twitter's Trust and Safety Council, tasked with removing child porn from the platform. The group plays such a key role at Twitter that Musk even tweeted, "The real CEO was the head of 'Trust & Safety'."
Musk and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey openly sparred over allegations Dorsey failed to do enough to remove child porn.
"It is a crime that they refused to take action on child exploitation for years!" tweeted Musk.
It led to a denial by Dorsey: "This is false."
this is false.— jack (@jack) December 9, 2022
"No, it is not," Musk retorted. "When Ella Irwin, who now runs Trust & Safety, joined Twitter earlier this year, almost no one was working on child safety. She raised this with Ned & Parag, but they rejected her staffing request. I made it top priority immediately."
No, it is not.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2022
When Ella Irwin, who now runs Trust & Safety, joined Twitter earlier this year, almost no one was working on child safety.
She raised this with Ned & Parag, but they rejected her staffing request.
I made it top priority immediately.@ellagirwin
Irwin confirmed this in a tweet: "I fought hard to get funding to replace the people working on this who left in early 2022 and was told no. At one point there were 0 engineers and very few employees working on CSE and still no funding."
Joining the Twitter Spaces discussion, Irwin added that funding for the council had been slashed years ago, and when she joined "it was a skeleton crew."
Bleu responded to the thread, "I like you Jack. I always did. It would be incredible if you just grew a pair and admitted that Twitter didn’t prioritize this issue and remove child sexual abuse material at scale. And you owe John Doe # 1 and # 2 a formal apology."
I like you Jack. I always did.— Eliza (@elizableu) December 9, 2022
It would be incredible if you just grew a pair and admitted that Twitter didn’t prioritize this issue and remove child sexual abuse material at scale.
And you owe John Doe # 1 and # 2 a formal apology.
Earlier that day, three members of Twitter's Trust and Safety Council announced their resignations, complaining that under Musk, "the safety and wellbeing of Twitter's users are on the decline."
Among those resigning was Lesley Podesta, niece of John Podesta, former campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.
The tweet garnered immediate backlash.
"You all belong in jail," wrote conservative commentator Mike Cernovich.
He posted a link to a New York Post article on a lawsuit accusing Twitter of leaving up child porn material after finding it did not violate the platform's policies.
The plaintiff, John Doe, discovered explicit underage sexual videos of himself posted on Twitter in 2019. He and his mother filed complaints with Twitter asking that it be removed.
Twitter responded a week later, after the child pornography had been viewed more than 167,000 times and retweeted 2,223 times: "We've reviewed the content, and didn’t find a violation of our policies, so no action will be taken at this time."
Doe wrote back in shock:
What do you mean you don't see a problem? We both are minors right now and were minors at the time these videos were taken. We both were 13 years of age. We were baited, harassed, and threatened to take these videos that are now being posted without our permission. We did not authorize these videos AT ALL and they need to be taken down.
It was only after the Department of Homeland Security ordered Twitter to remove the illegal material that it complied.
"He was 13 years old and being extorted. What the hell is Twitter doing?" asked Professor Hany Farid, who helped develop PhotoDNA technology used to help stop the spread of child porn online.
A number of victims' advocacy groups are backing the lawsuit, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Child USA; the Canadian Centre for Child Protection; and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, among others.
The Child Porn report revealed, "Direct messages (DMs) are still the preferred communication choice" for those trading illegal content.
On Thursday it was revealed that Twitter staff have access to users' direct messages, leading to criticism that the platform had ample opportunity to catch the offending material but failed to do so.
"If Twitter could see your DMs as detailed in the #TwitterFiles / #TwitterFiles2 drop, doesn't this mean they had countless exchanges of Child Pornographic Materials through DMs on their radar and just sat on it despite having tools to stop, report, and suppress it?" asked political commentator Malcolm Flex.
If Twitter could see your DMs as detailed in the #TwitterFiles / #TwitterFiles2 drop, doesn't this mean they had countless exchanges of Child Pornographic Materials through DMs on their radar and just sat on it despite having tools to stop, report, and suppress it?— Malcolm Fle✘ - ����Amoral Mercenary���� (@Malcolm_fleX48) December 9, 2022
The news comes one day after journalist Bari Weiss released the second set of Twitter files exposing Twitter's practice of blacklisting, shadowbanning and suppressing conservative political speech.
The evidence directly contradicts claims by Dorsey and former Twitter lawyer Vijaya Gadde, who insisted Twitter did not shadowban accounts based on political viewpoint. They also made these claims before Congress.