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Watchdog group outs mainstream social media for sexual exploitation

WASHINGTON (BP) – Lina Nealon, a sexual assault survivor and mother of four children, poses as a 14-year-old on Snapchat. Within minutes, Snapchat’s Stories section, marketed as “content from vetted media publishers and content creators,” recommends sexually suggestive videos.

“Clearly Snap and I have a different idea of what is acceptable content to share with teens,” said Nealon, vice president and director of corporate advocacy for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). “It is long past due for them to make blanket changes to make our kids safe.”

Nealon shares her story on Instagram in NCOSE’s release May 2 of its 10th annual Dirty Dozen List, accusing the companies of facilitating, enabling and profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation.

Snapchat joins Apple App Store, Discord, eBay, Instagram, Kik, Microsoft’s GitHub, Only Fans, Reddit, Roblox, Spotify and Twitter in comprising NCOSE’s Dirty Dozen.

“Those on our 2023 Dirty Dozen List were included for facilitating a diverse set of sexual exploitation issues including sex trafficking, image-based sexual abuse, child sexual abuse material, grooming children for exploitation, and childlike sex abuse dolls,” Nealon said. “Sexual abuse and exploitation are on the rise and are facilitated by digital platforms” Nealon said. “It is past time for tech platforms to stop their products from threatening the safety of children and enabling sexual abuse to happen to people of all ages.”

NCOSE released its list with documented examples directly captured from the tech sites and corroborating information supporting the accusations of sexual exploitation, with avenues for public advocacy for change.

“We call for urgent change from those who made the 2023 Dirty Dozen List. Over the past decade, the Dirty Dozen List campaign has instigated major policy changes at Google, TikTok, Comcast, Delta Airlines, Amazon, the Department of Defense, and many other influential institutions,” Nealon said. “The list exposes practices and products that endanger and harm people and galvanizes the public to press on the named entities to act ethically and promote human dignity.”

Apple reached out to NCOSE ahead of the release of the list “with an offer to renew meetings around safeguarding concerns,” NCOSE said in a press release.

NCOSE presents Apple App Store as “deceptive to the core,” stating that its “age ratings and descriptions mislead parents about the content, risks and dangers to children on available apps.”

“It is yet to be seen what steps Apple will take to address the concerns contained within the Dirty Dozen List,” NCOSE said, “but NCOSE is hopeful that Apple will step up its efforts to protect children in the App Store.”

Spotify’s filter doesn’t filter abusive content, an NCOSE researcher said on Instagram in releasing the report.

“When I began my research on Spotify I was absolutely shocked at the amount of pornographic content that I was able to easily find,” the researcher said. “Parents are putting their trust in this filter and they’re sometimes even paying for a premium subscription in order to be able to control this filter on their kids’ account, and this filter is doing virtually nothing to shield their kids from hardcore pornography on the app. It very rarely catches the audio pornography and it actually never catches the visual pornography because it just doesn’t (monitor) images.”

Twitter is persistent in posting child sexual abuse material and has resisted legal challenges to material considered sexually exploitative and abusive, NCOSE said, citing lawsuits against Twitter.

“In the ‘John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 v. Twitter’ case, the company continues to claim 100 percent legal immunity for its actions in facilitating the child sexual exploitation of John Doe and his friends,” NCOSE wrote.

NCOSE describes the Discord messaging platform as a “haven for sexual exploiters,” offering avenues for predators to groom children, find and trade child sexual material, and commit image-based sexual abuse of adults.”

“Whatever it is, you can get it on eBay.” NCOSE quotes eBay’s advertising slogan in pointing out available content there including “childlike sex abuse dolls and spycams advertised specifically for filming women without their consent.”

Instagram facilitates the capturing and sharing of images that facilitate grooming minors for sexual abuse, the dissemination of child sexual abuse materials, sex trafficking and other harms.

Kik is “crawling with criminals,” NCOSE asserts, describing the anonymous messaging app as a “predator’s paradise for grooming kids and sharing images of their abuse, in addition to hardcore porn and prostitution ads.”

NCOSE describes GitHub’s as “the go-to place to create sexually exploitative technology,” including deepfakes, “nudify” apps that make fully clothed people appear naked, and AI-generated pornography.

OnlyFans empowers sex traffickers, child exploiters and “revenge porn” attackers in committing their crimes, NCOSE said, while Roblox may expose kids to predators and inappropriate content.

The full list is available here, with NCOSE’s related editorial posts available on Instagram. Founded in 1962, NCOSE began releasing the Dirty Dozen list in 2013.