I probably do not even need to mention how information and communication technologies (ICT’s) and social media have impregnated modern life. As I discussed my first and second posts, ICT’s has an enormous potential to cultivate solidarity and digital activism. Unfortunately social movements and activists are not the only ones taking advantage of Internets’ potential for connection and sharing. Also networks with motivations like sexual exploitation of children online (SECO) have seen the opportunity. As William Gibson expressed; “The street finds its own uses for things” (in Meikle, 2016). SECO can be defined to include;
“(virtual) Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), child pornography conducts (such as production, distribution, downloading), grooming of children for sexual purposes, sexual extortion of children, and the live streaming of child sexual abuse in real-time.”
Further it is important to remember that they are always real children, despite the ‘virtual’ nature of the acts on the screen (ECPAT, 2017a).
The risk society
ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism) is a growing global network of civil society organisations in 88 countries committed to combat SECO. In recient reports they state that the ICT’s has become an advantage for the offenders.
“(T)he rapid expansion of the Internet globally, with its increasing and instant reach to individuals, has exposed more children and young people to sexual exploitation and abuse. Rapidly developing technology has given rise to new forms of sexual abuse and exploitation through the use of devices and features provided by ICTs.”
Moreover our use of social media “has further enabled child exploiters to more readily engage in ‘grooming’ by using social media platforms to connect with child victims. It has also allowed child exploiters to appropriate and misuse materials uploaded by social media users for the purposes of sexual exploitation”(ECPAT, 2014).
The dark side of ICT’s
Thanks to phenomenon like “peer-to-peer” sharing, but also the Dark net, offenders of child abuse can avoid leaving evidence behind. They no longer need to carry with them the abusive material or store it in their computers but can access the material and share it whenever they want. The Dark net is a hidden net that requires specific software and authorization to access. In this way it can provide “added security for those who want more privacy and are concerned about traffic analysis and network surveillance” (Unwin, 2017).
However is social media a private and public space where we are encouraged to share ideas and experiences (Meikle, 2016). But we cannot control in what other networks our material is shared. The already economically vulnerable and marginalized are to greater extent negatively affected by this development. This becasue they more often lack knowledge, technology or/and the resources to protect their data and privacy. Or their government lacks the determination or resources to protect its citizens. Many saw the development of ICT’s as an opportunity for equality and anarchic forms of human interaction and did not see the other dark side of it (Unwin, 2017).
In addition, ECPAT (2014) raises awareness about the digital generation gap. Children and teenagers today have more knowledge about how Internet and social media works than their caretakers, educators and policymakers. So apparently we do not only deal with a socioeconomic digital divide according to computer literacy, but also a generation gap. ECPAT emphasizes this as a big risk factor.
Put our priorities straight
Unfortunately there is no easy solution to this, but something to remember is that prevention is paramount. Unwin argues that the use for illegal activity requires us to reflect upon our priorities regarding privacy. Consequently we should weight it according to other values like protection of our families and decide what tools we want to provide our authorities with (Unwin, 2017). However legal sanctions and police investigations alone will not teach young people how to use the internet safely.
Therefore we need to educate children and young people on the risks. This does not suggest that the responsability is on the children, but they need the information and awareness to take care of themselves and their friends online. There are quite a number of campaigns on social media that focus on raising young people’s awareness, both adults and children, especially on YouTube, for example from Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP), and UNICEF in collaboration with MTV and the popular Latin rap dup Calle 13 among many others. They have used the experiences of young victims of SECO and chosen to share it in educative purpose.
Furthermore many NGO’s and institutions have their own Hotline chats today where you can report crimes or suspicion of crimes online but also give support to victims. However we also need keep up the pace with the technologic development and be present on social media. Both as parents, educators or online activists, and not look away from the dark reality. Clearly we need some moral courage online.
Photos: Julia Andén
ECPAT (2017a) “The Issue” http://www.ecpat.org/issues-we-work-on/ending-sexual-exploitation-of-children-online/ (retrieved 2017-10-08)
ECPAT (2017b) “About Us” http://www.ecpat.org/about-ecpat/ (retrieved 2017-10-08)
ECPAT (2014) Briefing Note to Committee on the Rights of the Child: Media, Social Networks and the Rights of the Child. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRC/Discussions/2014/ECPAT.pdf
Meikle, Graham (2016) Social Media: Communication, Sharing and Visibility. Abingdon: Routledge.
Unwin, Tim (2017) Reclaiming Information & Communication Technologies for Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.