Sexual predators have increased their right to use the internet to share and view photos and videos of child sexual abuse. Some have computer programming expertise, and sophisticated defenses have been deployed against attempts to take them down.
Yet abusers don’t have free rein on the internet thanks to nearly four dozen child protection hotlines around the world that serve as the first line of defense against the image explosion.
The hotlines play a crucial role in getting the content addressed by tech companies, websites, and others. We issue a notice to delete it. When an unauthorized picture is known to the hotlines, parents may also alert law enforcement officials who may conduct a criminal investigation and attempt to save the child being harmed.
But the hotlines must continuously find ways to outsmart them to keep up with the predators. The problem is that no solution takes a long time, because the predators are also using technology to find ways to hide.
“I’ve done this for fourteen years, and I heard it about the magic bullet so many times,” said Denton Howard, Inhope’s executive director, a network of 47 hotlines of child sexual abuse around the world.
In the case of three recently shuttered pages, a new software platform was introduced by the Canadian Center for Child Protection hotline in Canada, called Arachnid, after the spider-including invertebrate class. With less than a small annual budget of $5 million, the center found that it needed a faster and more successful way to take bad actors on board.
The goal, according to Signy Arnason, the associate executive director of the center, was to use technologies to “help end the cycle of violence.”
Some, including the British hotline, have also developed automated computer systems that search the internet, leading to a change in the fight to rid the imagery internet. The policies, dubbed spiders, have resulted in an unprecedented increase in the number of notes sent by the hotlines because they no longer depend on responding only to individual tipster messages.
In hope also used upgraded tools to manage between the hotlines the growing number of reports. In the Interpol basement in Lyon, France, the agency maintains a data center where the content is stored, checked against previously identified photographs, and exchanged with law enforcement agencies.
In almost all cases, the app can also classify the country where the content is being stored, meaning, for example, imagery in the Netherlands can be identified by a Canadian hotline and be forwarded for further review by In the hope of the Netherlands hotline.
The advances in technology have helped put some sexual predators on the run, but some of the hotlines have also been overwhelmed, which are too small or ill-equipped to handle the increased work. Some of the companies also generated friction between the shifts.
The Dutch hotline has been especially struck because it is a local hot spot for businesses storing illicit imagery. Last year, according to data collected by In hope, Europe eclipsed the United States as the top hosting position for child sexual abuse content on the open web, and the Netherlands led Europe.
Meldpunt Kinderporno, the Netherlands hotline, has struggled to keep up, said Arda Gerkens, the executive director of the organization, who is also a member of the Netherlands parliament.
“With every image they find, they clog us,” she said of referrals from the In hope. “We don’t have much time to relax. “Meldpunt Kinderporno, with a budget of less than € 1 million per year, deployed long-awaited software this month that helps to automate tasks performed manually for each abuse imagery report. Ms. Gerkens said she was optimistic that the app, along with other efforts — including laws being introduced to force businesses in the Netherlands to search for illegal content themselves — will allow the hotline back to a more stable footing.
“I felt more and more urgency every day yesterday to get this done,” Ms. Gerkens wrote in an email.
The U.S. website, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is in its field because of the immense role that American tech companies have in detecting and advertising on their site’s illicit imagery. The American center received reports from tech companies of more than 45 million fake photographs last year alone.
For years, several senior French journalists have been suspended or shot in one of the most extreme and malignant cases for reportedly facilitating online harassment of female colleagues through a private Facebook group — the Ligue du LOL — sharing intimate images and doctoral pictures of their targets. This is not something that emerges from 4Chan’s dark, dingy circles, “says Rossalyn Warren, Targeted and Trolled’s journalist and author. (7)” I hear of male journalists who have second accounts attacking female journalists they don’t like.