In 2016, more than 57,000 web pages containing child sexual abuse images were tracked by the Internet Watch Foundation – a UK-based body that identifies and removes such illegal content. This was an increase of 21% from the previous year. The US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 10m reports of child sexual abuse content in 2017, an increase of 22% from the previous 12 months. It’s likely that these initiatives, while much needed, are identifying and removing only a small amount of the content that is distributed online every day.
Images depicting child abuse that are posted online have a severe impact on these abused children for years or decades after the primary physical abuse has ended. Abused children have already been victimised, but research shows that the availability of their images online keeps the nightmare alive for the child, their family and friends. It can also significantly affect a victim’s interaction with the internet for the rest of their lives.
Technology companies are uniquely positioned to act as guardians of the threshold by removing and reporting sexually explicit content that is uploaded onto their services. So why don’t they do more to aggressively protect millions of children around the world?Removing illegal web pages isn’t enough. Thomas Holt/Shutterstock