Technological development from its’ darkest side – online child abuse

This is not a pleasant subject to discuss, but I aim to do so in solidarity to all children over the world who suffered or in this moment is a victim of commercial sexual exploitation online. The question is if we have gone too far in the technological development to ever be able to eradicate this atrocious criminality? This post is a simply reminder that ICTs are not inherently good.

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).

UNICEF video used in educative purpose with children and teachers by local NGO in Nicaragua.
Photo: Julia Andén

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” (retrieved 2017-10-08)

ECPAT (2017b) “About Us” (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.

Meikle, Graham (2016) Social Media: Communication, Sharing and Visibility. Abingdon: Routledge.

Unwin, Tim (2017) Reclaiming Information & Communication Technologies for Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2 thoughts on “Technological development from its’ darkest side – online child abuse”

  1. Thanks Julia for this blog post. Your contribution in my opinion helps to highlight the perennial problem with child abuse and how with contemporary improvement in digital technology, that problem has been further accentuated. Regarding the question as to whether humans have gone too far in technological development vis a vis the accentuation of child abuse today through online commercial exploitation? For me the issue of child abuse has been with humans for as long as we existed. Digital technologies are simply being adopted and adapted today to fulfil specific contexts into which they are appropriated. Humans are thus merely finding new method to carry out old habit. Today’s digital technology has been credited with stimulating and creating opportunities, helping to carry out tasks at a ground-breaking record that is never witnessed before now. Humans in my thinking are not prepared to jettison this new and improved ways of doing things as a result of its misapplication by some minority few. Like it is often the case, most things with advantages are also not without disadvantages. Part of the disadvantage here is that these technologies could be transformed into tools for the expression of alternative and or oppositional voice (Lievrov L 2011). Though debatable, one can assume that the advantages of digital technology far out-way their flipsides. The onions now fall on parents, children related institutions, government and society as whole to as a matter of urgency device new ways to combat this problem of our time. Like you also rightly mentioned in your post, parents in particular are expected to pay more attention to their children’s development and digital involvement in light of the current challenges and new realities. That could be the best approach to follow in mitigating the damage from this problem that in my thinking has come to stay.
    Gbenga Jelili

    1. Hi Jelili and thanks for you comment.
      I agree with you that most advantages come with some kind of disadvantages, sometimes more severe than others. As you mention child abuse is not a new phenomenon, but as with other criminal activity it has changed character with the technological development and is adapting. How sad it might be we need to understand that this is here to stay as you say. I consider the best way forward to be prevention, of course in combination with police investigtions, law enforcement etcetera, and make children and other techno-vulnerable groups more aware of the risks so they can make well based and accurate decisions about their life online. Last Friday 13th we covered the conference #HerNetHerRights which focused on promoting womens’ rights online in Europe and some of the head speakers emphasized the connection between the online and offline life in terms of sexual harassments online, and I think this is something we should keep in mind when talking to children about Internet. It is not another life where you can resurrect or or log out. They also highlighted several inspiring initiatives to support the victims which will forever be a crucial piece to handle the consequences of the technoogical development. Thanks for sharing your thought on this Jelili.

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