Twitter Job Cuts Leave Team Handling Child Sexual Abuse 'Gutted'

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Layoffs Have Decimated Twitter’s Team Working to Thwart Child Sexual Abuse

Layoffs Have Decimated Twitter’s Team Working to Thwart Child Sexual Abuse

Dec 6, 2022

In November, Twitter CEO Elon Musk declared that, “Removing child exploitation is priority #1.” However, as multiple media outlets have reported, after widespread layoffs, only one Twitter staff member remains on a key team dedicated to removing child sexual abuse content from the platform.

Twitter Job Cuts Leave Team Handling Child Sexual Abuse ‘Gutted’

The cuts to the global team were confirmed by two people with knowledge of the matter, both of whom requested to remain anonymous, according to WIRED.

“It’s unclear how many people were on the team before Musk’s takeover. On LinkedIn, WIRED identified four Singapore-based employees who specialize in child safety who said publicly they left Twitter in November,” the technology news website said.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the company layoffs “dramatically reduced” Twitter’s team devoted to tackling child exploitation by half and effectively turned the global group of experts into an “overwhelmed skeleton crew.”

“The team now has fewer than 10 specialists to review and escalate reports of child sexual exploitation, three people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified for fear of retaliation. At the beginning of the year, Twitter had a team of about 20, they said,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Twitter’s in-house child safety experts serve an important role which “cannot be understated,” researchers indicated to WIRED. The Twitter child sexual abuse exploitation team is based at the company’s Asian headquarters in Singapore. It reportedly serves a number of important functions – at least ostensibly – such as:

  • Enforcing the company’s ban on child sex abuse material (CSAM) in the Asia Pacific region
  • Getting help from organizations such as the U.K.’s Internet Watch Foundation and the U.S.-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) – both of which search the internet to identify CSAM content being shared across platforms like Twitter
  • Ensuring objectionable content is automatically removed by company systems (without requiring human moderation)
  • Ensuring that the process of blocking such child sexual abuse content is as efficient as possible

Prior to the layoffs, Twitter’s child sexual abuse safety team was comprised of a mix of former law enforcement officers and child safety experts based in the U.S., Ireland, and Singapore, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Said team was reportedly responsible for:

  • Stopping the distribution of child sexual abuse material
  • Stopping instances of online grooming
  • Stopping media that promoted attraction to minors as an identity or sexual orientation

And the need for a team of experts working to thwart online child sexual exploitation on Twitter is absolutely necessary, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Although artificial intelligence-based tools can be useful for identifying images that have already been reviewed and categorized as child sexual exploitation material by law enforcement, human review is particularly important for recognizing the nuances of grooming and other exploitative behaviors, identifying previously unknown abusive images and videos, and understanding regional differences in the law, the people said. Humans are also required to respond to requests from law enforcement as part of criminal investigations,” the L.A. Times wrote.

The cuts to Twitter’s child sexual abuse safety team are “very worrying,” Carolina Christofoletti, a CSAM researcher at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, told WIRED.

“It’s delusional to think that there will be no impact on the platform if people who were working on child safety inside of Twitter can be laid off or allowed to resign,” she said.

Twitter did not immediately reply to requests for comment from both WIRED and the Los Angeles Times.

As WIRED reported, Twitter’s latest transparency report – which covers July to December 2021 – indicated that the company suspended more than half a million accounts for CSAM. That represents a 31% increase compared to the previous six months. Furthermore, in September, brands including Dyson and Forbes suspended advertising campaigns after their promotions appeared alongside child abuse content, according to WIRED.

Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) Increases Dramatically in 2021

As we noted in a recent blog, a report from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) confirmed that the United States hosts more online sexual abuse material than any other nation in the entire world. According to the IWF, at the end of 2022, the U.S. accounted for 30% of the global CSAM URLs.

That 30% total figure is an increase from the 21% global share of all online child sexual abuse material URLs held by the United States at the end of 2021.

According to the IWF report:

  • 252,194 URLs containing or advertising CSAM in 2021 existed in the U.S. (the highest number since the organization began tracking such content).
  • That figure represents a 64% increase from 2020.
  • 89% of the CSAM URLs were traced to image hosts, file-storing cyberlockers, and image stores.

The IWF report further confirmed that 2021 was the worst year on record for child sexual abuse images online (with 252,000 URLs containing images or videos of children under the age of 18 being sexually abused identified, compared with 153,000 in 2020).

Moreover, a report from the BBC confirmed the following statistics related to CSAM:

  • 70% of victims were between 11 and 13 years of age.
  • Where boys were included in the content, it tended to be of a “more severe category.”
  • The material was found to be predominantly self-generated and usually recorded at home using a phone or webcam.

Sextortion Scams Targeting Teens Highlighted by FBI Alert

Earlier this year, the FBI issued an alert noting a substantial increase in online sextortion scams – the majority of which are aimed at teenagers.

“The FBI is receiving an increasing number of reports of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos and then extorting money from them,” a press release from the bureau’s San Francisco Field Office said.

The FBI’s San Francisco Field Office further confirmed having received dozens of complaints involving boys who were reported victims of sextortion within the last year. The majority of those incidents involved soliciting victims for money, although others were reportedly sextorted for additional images.

Tips for Parents to Help Protect Children from Online Sexual Exploitation

The FBI offers the following tips to help parents protect children from online sexual exploitation, sextortion scams, and CSAM involvement:

  • Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you or your children.
  • Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
  • Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
  • Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
  • Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

The FBI confirmed that the organization’s IC3 (Internet Complaint Referral Form) received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints in 2021, with losses estimated at over $13.6 million. The FBI also noted that this number reflects all types of sextortion reported, not just the specific scheme referenced above.

California’s Top-Rated Child Sexual Abuse Attorneys

Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is a full-service firm representing survivors of child sexual abuse in civil claims. Our top-rated and proven team of Los Angles lawyers is led by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for L.A. County. Dordulian has been fighting for justice on behalf of sexual abuse survivors for over 25 years, helping them recover more than $100,000,000.00 in settlements and verdicts in civil claims while also helping to secure life sentences against some of the community’s most dangerous sexual predators.

For a free and confidential consultation with a member of DLG’s SAJE Team (Sexual Abuse Justice Experts), contact us today at 818-322-4056. Unlike traditional firms, DLG’s SAJE Team was created by Sam Dordulian to offer survivors four tiers of support throughout the legal claims process:

Contact our top-rated team of expert sexual abuse attorneys online or by phone today to pursue justice and secure a financial award for damages.

  1. Litigation team of proven, skilled, and experienced sexual abuse lawyers fighting aggressively for justice on behalf of each and every survivor
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DLG’s child sexual abuse lawyers are here to answer any question you may have 24/7. When you’re ready to pursue justice for past abuse, reach out to a member of our team to learn more about your right to maximum financial compensation.

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