Forbes Report: Facebook's Meta Failed to Protect Instagram Child Models From Pedophiles

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Forbes Report: Facebook’s Meta Failed to Protect Instagram Child Models From Pedophiles

Forbes Report: Facebook’s Meta Failed to Protect Instagram Child Models From Pedophiles

Jun 29, 2022

An exclusive investigative report published by Forbes details systemic failures on the part of Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, to protect child models on Instagram from pedophiles.

Meta failed to protect Instagram’s child models from pedophiles

The Forbes report notes:

  • A photographer accused of selling photos to pedophiles was allowed to use Instagram for several months despite being arrested.
  • Forbes alerted Meta to “more than a dozen” accounts with over half a million followers that were “sexualizing child and teenage models,” but little action was taken on the part of the social media giant.

The report from Forbes includes accounts of multiple minors seeking to pursue modeling ambitions who were contacted by a man named Grant Durtschi. Durtschi, a 48-year-old who had made a “career out of photographing kids,” according to Forbes, would often pay the parent or even the child a substantial sum of money – up to $1,000 per shoot – before selling those photos to “unknown buyers.”

Said anonymous buyers were often known pedophiles, the Forbes’ report claims.

The father of a 13-year-old girl featured in the report told the FBI that Durtschi had “openly admitted to selling his photos to pedophiles” in chats with his teenage daughter via the messaging app Telegram.

After the teenager’s father contacted federal investigators, Forbes confirmed:

“The Louisiana Bureau of Investigation received a batch of Durtschi’s photos of Jane [identify changed by Forbes] in various poses wearing a G-string bikini on a bed, according to a search warrant application for Google Drive accounts linked to the investigation. Some images were of Jane in sexually suggestive positions and some photos were intimate, the warrant read. After interviewing Sarah, federal agents said that during Jane’s final shoot in October 2020 in Texas that Jane complained she was uncomfortable with how Durtschi was getting ‘handsy.’ Jane would later tell police the photographer touched her backside and undid her swimsuit.”

Child Photographer Grant Durtschi Reportedly Used Instagram to Sell Photos of Minors to Pedophiles

Forbes reported that Durtschi would typically utilize two separate Instagram accounts. Police analysis of financial records indicate that “customers” would contact Durtschi via Instagram and pay for photos of teenagers and children through PayPal. The analysis of Durtschi’s PayPal account revealed:

  • Over 70 male clients had paid between $100 and $1,100 for sexually suggestive images of children.
  • The FBI confirmed that several of those men were either convicted sex offenders or had other related convictions in their criminal history.
  • One of the men, according to the FBI, had previously been arrested for kidnapping.

Although both of Durtschi’s primary accounts have been confirmed as removed from Meta’s popular social media platform, his arrest as well as alerts issued directly to the company failed to impact his Instagram presence, according to Forbes.

Durtschi was arrested in March on charges of sexual exploitation of children. He pleaded not guilty in April. However, after being arrested and charged, Durtschi was able to continue to use Instagram to share images of minors “for months,” according to Forbes. Furthermore, in conducting a simple search for Durtschi’s two deleted Instagram accounts, Forbes found:

  • One account referencing his business name had nearly 90,000 followers and was regularly posting images of teenagers and possibly younger children wearing swimming attire.
  • Comments under the photos “were sexual in nature,” whether explicitly or with sexualized emojis.
  • Earlier in 2022, another Instagram user reported the account as belonging to Durthschi and claimed the photographer was selling images of children to pedophiles.

Forbes reportedly alerted Meta to the account that same week, and it was removed.

However, despite Forbes alerting Meta to Durtschi’s troubling account, another profile referencing his photography company remained online. Furthermore, Forbes reported that the FBI confirmed the Instagram account in question “had previously been shut down,” indicating that Meta had actually allowed the accused sex offender to reinstate his profile. Said profile continued to post photos and videos of minors, Forbes confirmed.

The account linked to Durtschi, which was publicly available, reportedly indicated it was “rebuilding for the third time” a month after the photographer was arrested. That account contained a reel of a “child model being photographed by a gray-haired male,” according to Forbes.

The same model’s Instagram image had been shared on Durtschi’s page with an estimated 90,000 followers before it was officially closed, according to Forbes. The last account linked to Durtschi was finally removed after Forbes notified Meta of its existence.

As Forbes notes in the report:

“The case not only highlights a troubling corner of Instagram that acts as a marketplace for sexualized images of children, it also shows how easily those who exploit young people can elude banishment and return again and again, even after they’re arrested and charged. Despite years of criticism for how it fails to protect children, most recently via the leaks of former employee Frances Haugen, Meta, with $118 billion in 2021 revenue, relies a great deal on unpaid Instagram users and journalists to identify wrongdoers, and has a tough time keeping them off the platform or disposing of what they might leave behind.”

Meta Claims Zero Tolerance for Child Exploitation

According to a Meta spokesperson who communicated with Forbes for the report, the social media giant has no tolerance for child exploitation and will remove accounts that “share such content.”

“We’ve always removed content that explicitly sexualizes children, and last year we updated our policies to help us remove more subtle types of sexualization, including where accounts share images of children alongside inappropriate commentary about their appearance,” a Meta spokesperson told Forbes. “We know there may be those who try and get around our systems, which is why we’re always working to make sure we stay one step ahead.”

The spokesperson reportedly referenced Meta’s policy outlawing any content sexualizing children. The company doesn’t allow children in “sexualized costume” or in a “staged environment (for example, on a bed) or professionally shot (quality/focus/angles),” Forbes reported.

Forbes Report Identifies Over a Dozen Instagram Accounts Sexualizing Children

Through a basic search conducted during its investigation, Forbes discovered over a dozen Instagram accounts posting content similar to that which was found on Durtschi’s various accounts. Those sexualized accounts featuring children were reportedly visited by Instagram users who “let it be known that they found the minors to be sexually attractive,” according to Forbes.

The Forbes’ investigation also found:

  • One Instagram profile with photos and videos of minors in swimwear consistently posted.
  • That specific account, with 2,167 followers, included a request for “no creeps please.”
  • Another Instagram account with similar child swimwear-based content had 43,000 followers.

But those “were just the public groups,” as Forbes noted. The magazine discovered problematic private accounts, one of which had nearly 400,000 followers promising “photos of teenagers in swimwear.”

Combined with Durtschi’s pages, the Instagram accounts identified by Forbes containing sexualized images of children and teenagers had a total of more than 500,000 followers.

Forbes alerted Meta to 15 potentially exploitative accounts, and Instagram closed 11 at the time of the report’s publication on June 25. Later, Forbes confirmed Instagram had announced new safety features through a partnership with a company called Yoti that attempts to:

  • Verify users’ ages
  • Scan faces to estimate the approximate age of a subject

Canadian Charitable Organization Calls for Meta to Improve Safety for Children

Forbes reported that the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, a registered charitable organization dedicated to the personal safety of all children, was “incensed” by the magazine’s findings.

Lianna McDonald, executive director for the Canadian charity, called for Meta to increase its content moderation while also appealing to governments to introduce new legislation that would force such social media giants to take more action on “not just criminal content, but also content that is harmful and abusive to children,” Forbes reported.

“In our experience, the publication of sexualized child modeling imagery – often images that don’t rise to the level of being unambiguously illegal – are frequently used as promotional conduits to signal the availability of child sexual abuse imagery on other channels,” McDonald told Forbes.

McDonald referred to the specific tactic as “breadcrumbing.”

She also noted to Forbes that images of one of the victims referenced in a search warrant provided by the magazine was promoted on dark web child sexual abuse forums. On such platforms, the images “are being used in more sexually abusive and explicit ways,” McDonald said.

According to Forbes, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection continues to find Instagram accounts that either promote child sexual abuse or sexualize children. In a single month, the charity reported nearly 150 such troubling accounts to Instagram. Of those reported, 40 accounts currently remain online, according to McDonald.

California Assembly Bill 2408 May Allow Parents to Sue Social Media Companies

In May, the California State Assembly passed a bill which could allow parents to sue social media companies for “making their platforms addictive to children.”

Assembly Bill 2408 (AB 2408) defines “addiction” as when a child under 18 is emotionally, mentally, physically, developmentally, or materially harmed by their social media use and are unable to stop using it despite wanting to.

The bill must go to the California State Senate to be heard and negotiated by lawmakers. If it passes, it will allow parents of children under the age of 18 to file claims for up to $25,000 per violation against social media companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

While the bill does not directly address how social media companies like Instagram may be held liable for claims related to child sexual exploitation, it could open avenues for such civil lawsuits to be successfully brought in the future.

Contact a Child Sexual Abuse Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you have a sexual abuse claim, the team of experienced attorneys at Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is here to pursue justice on your behalf via a civil lawsuit seeking maximum financial compensation. DLG’s sexual abuse lawyers are here to fight aggressively on your behalf to ensure justice is served.

We’re available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have regarding filing a childhood sexual abuse claim, including whether you may be able to remain anonymous throughout the litigation process, how long it may take for your case to reach a successful resolution, how much your case could potentially be worth, and more.

Child sexual abuse claims are currently not subject to the standard statute of limitations under California AB 218, meaning that any survivor may file a lawsuit seeking financial compensation, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred. However, AB 218’s three-year lookback window expires on January 1, 2023. Accordingly, survivors must file claims before the deadline to ensure their opportunity at justice is not hindered.

DLG’s sexual abuse lawyers are always available for free, confidential, and no obligation consultations via 818-322-4056. Contact us today to learn about how a childhood sexual abuse lawsuit under AB 218 can help you get the justice you deserve – even decades after the crime was committed.

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