While Blue Checks Whine About Extremism, Elon Musk Is Protecting Sexually Exploited Children | Opinion

If you've spent any time on Twitter recently, you will have noticed the outrage pouring out from the most prominent voices on the platform against its new owner, Elon Musk. From firing of half his workforce to allowing people to buy blue checkmarks to deciding to allow former President Donald Trump back on Twitter, Musk has been excoriated as platforming extremists and not being "remotely serious about safeguarding the platform from hate, harassment and misinformation," as the head of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt put it.

Yet as the loudest voices on Twitter take up all the oxygen with minor complaints and one-upmanship of victimhood, Twitter under Musk's leadership has been quietly making small changes that will have a huge positive, global impact on the most vulnerable, people with no voice and no way to advocate for themselves: children who are sexually exploited. To give you a sense of the scale of the problem, on Twitter alone, there were 86,000 reports of the sexual exploitation of children in 2021, though I believe the true number is much higher.

For me, this is personal. My name is Eliza and I'm a survivor of human trafficking. I have made the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation material on Twitter a specific area of focus over the last few years, ever since I heard the story of John Doe #1. John Doe #1 is suing Twitter, along with a second plaintiff, John Doe #2, for knowingly allowing their sexual exploitation as minors on the platform. Both John Does were solicited and recruited for sex trafficking as minors, and child sexual abuse material depicting them later found its way to Twitter. They alerted Twitter and asked the platform to remove the content, but though Twitter reviewed the material and verified the minors' identities, those in charge still would not remove it.

"Twitter refused to remove the illegal material and instead continued to promote and profit from the sexual abuse of the children," reads the lawsuit. Twitter even reported back to John Doe #1 that the video in question did not violate any of their policies.

John Doe #1 and #2 are just two of thousands of minors whose sexual exploitation finds its way to Twitter. It's shared with specific hashtags to make it easier for its consumers to find it. And when a user searches for child sexual exploitation content on Twitter, the search bar makes other suggestions to help them find more.

"Twitter has been made aware of these hashtags on many occasions but continues to index them and utilize them for advertising revenue," the lawsuit says. Even reporting them was an onerous and seldom successful endeavor, in my own experience.

Elon Musk
BOCA CHICA BEACH, TX - AUGUST 25: SpaceX founder Elon Musk during a T-Mobile and SpaceX joint event on August 25, 2022 in Boca Chica Beach, Texas. The two companies announced plans to work together to provide T-Mobile cellular service using Starlink satellites. Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images

It's something the company was aware of. "Twitter cannot accurately detect child sexual exploitation and non-consensual nudity at scale," a team put in charge of monetizing adult content discovered. "While the amount of [child sexual exploitation] online has grown exponentially, Twitter's investment in technologies to detect and manage the growth has not," reads a February 2021 internal report. "Teams are managing the workload using legacy tools with known broken windows." And according to reporting from The Verge, "Executives are apparently well-informed about the issue, and the company is doing little to fix it."

It's something I knew firsthand, because I reached out to Twitter's former CEO, Jack Dorsey, directly for help on this matter in 2020. We were following each other on Twitter and I had always found him to be helpful and respectful, so I reached out via DM to ask for a meeting with Twitter corporate and he obliged.

The author's correspondence with Jack Dorsey
The author's correspondence with Jack Dorsey, then-CEO of Twitter

Sadly, the meeting was a waste of my time. I was disheartened when representatives for the platform basically repeated the same lines from their transparency reports and public relations statements: "We do not tolerate child sexual exploitation (CSE) on Twitter."

It was devastating. It was around that time that I came to the conclusion that there was one person who I could picture truly tackling this issue: Elon Musk.

I had seen his ability to drive innovation, and he is one of the few people that I've seen make seemingly impossible tasks become a reality. I gave an interview to the Tesla-affiliated publication Teslarati in January of 2021 explaining why I thought Musk was the person to tackle child sexual exploitation.

I also started a petition to see if I could get Twitter to add an easy reporting system for child sexual abuse material. It was an easy fix that I thought would ultimately help handle the volume of material at scale.

The petition took off and quickly received almost 18,000 signatures, and though I did not hear from anyone at Twitter, the platform briefly added an easier reporting system—but then completely removed the option to report directly from an offending tweet or profile.

When Musk started to express interest in the platform, my first thought was how this could help John Doe #1 and other children like him. As soon as the sale went through, I reached out directly to offer my recommendations in handling the child sexual exploitation material at scale and the immediate first steps I thought would make the most impact.

A few weeks after Elon Musk became CEO and owner of Twitter, the easy reporting system I recommended was quietly implemented. Shortly afterward, I noticed large amounts of child sexual abuse material being removed from popular hashtags used to sell and exchange child sexual abuse material.

In a subsequent tweet, Musk named it "Priority #1."

I am extremely happy with the changes. My only request moving forward is that Twitter continues to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation material at scale while preserving the digital privacy rights of innocent citizens from around the globe using Twitter.

I am hopeful that Musk and his newly committed team at Twitter will do everything they can to find solutions that respect the rights of all of their users.

Eliza Bleu is a survivor advocate for those effected by human trafficking. She is also a survivor of human trafficking.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.