Child sexual abuse content floods internet as lockdown hinders quick removal, say experts

Between March 16 and April 15, content moderators have removed only 1,498 web addresses flagged by IWF — almost a 90% drop from the previous month, when they took down over 14,947 web addresses


                            Child sexual abuse content floods internet as lockdown hinders quick removal, say experts
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Lockdowns have given way to a new problem: tech firms are failing to take down content on child sexual abuse. The findings are from The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), an organization responsible for flagging such illegal content.

Thanks to the lockdown, tech firms have tasked only a few of their staff to delete such pages, thereby allowing wide-circulation. Between March 16 and April 15, content moderators have removed only 1,498 web addresses flagged by IWF — almost a 90% drop from the previous month, when they took down over 14,947 web addresses.

"What we are seeing here is the first hard evidence of how the global crisis is affecting the fight against child sexual abuse material. Even though our analysts are working as normal to find this evil content, it is staying available for longer, even after they have reported it."

"This means there is more opportunity for sexual predators to view and share it," Susie Hargreaves, the chief executive of the IWF, told The Guardian.

She added: "Hotlines and abuse teams across the globe need to be aware that there is a slowdown of this content being removed and to be mindful of doing what they can, within their ability, to get this content taken down. 

According to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and chief executive, the company would use artificial intelligence to moderate online content.

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Rise in online abuse as more children stay home 

Earlier this month, children's rights advocates had warned that online child sexual abuse content is rising amid lockdown. 

"Europol, the UK's National Crime Agency, the Swedish Police Authority and others have already seen an increase in online child sexual exploitation since COVID-19 lockdown," John Tanagho, the field office director for the International Justice Mission in the Philippines, a country at the epicenter of online sexual abuse of children, told NPR.

Traffickers are reportedly live-streaming child sexual abuse to child sex offenders around the world, primarily in Western countries. The offenders get access to content by just paying the traffickers, he explained. 

Recently, Michael Oghia, advocacy and engagement manager at the Global Forum for Media Developments, recounted a disturbing experience. During a zoom conference with colleagues, someone hacked the presenter's screen to show a video of explicit pornography involving an infant.

"It took me a moment to process it," Oghia, told NBC news. "At first I thought it was porn, but as soon as it clicked, I shut my computer. What the hell did I just see?"

Many experts have pointed out that the pandemic is triggering a rise in such content on popular social media, video and messaging platforms. As more people stay home, there is more demand for such content.

Other experts are also concerned about the rise. "Children are more at home, therefore they [are] using the Internet more," Rosario Hernández, development officer of the Cambodian nongovernmental organization Action Pour Les Enfants, which runs programs for child victims of sexual abuse, told NPR.

"And predators can be at home more as well and, you know, soliciting [grooming] more," she added.

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