Disclaimer: Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative awareness and education organization. Some of the issues discussed in the following article are legislatively-affiliated. Including links and discussions about these legislative matters does not constitute an endorsement by Fight the New Drug. Though our organization is non-legislative, we fully support the regulation of already illegal forms of pornography and sexual exploitation, including the fight against sex trafficking.
It’s not uncommon to hear about big tech companies struggling to deal with unwanted or illegal content on their platforms these days.
Moderating online content for violence and sexual abuse like child sexual abuse material—commonly known as “child pornography”—is a challenge that’s tough to solve completely.
Popular information-sharing social platform, Reddit, has also faced this problem. In April 2021, a young woman filed a class-action lawsuit against Reddit claiming that, “Reddit knowingly benefits from lax enforcement of its content policies, including for child pornography.”
This woman, going by the pseudonym Jane Doe, accused Reddit of distributing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) of her, stating that in 2019, an abusive ex-boyfriend started posting sexual photos and videos that were taken of her without her consent while she was still only 16 years old.
It’s important to note that, independently of consent, the fact that she was under 18 when these photos were taken and subsequently shared still means they are CSAM.
When the woman reported the incidents to Reddit moderators, she reportedly had to wait “several days” for the content to be taken down, while the ex-boyfriend continued to open up new accounts and repost the images and videos despite his old account being banned.
According to the lawsuit, Reddit’s “[refusal] to help” has meant that it’s fallen “to Jane Doe to monitor no less than 36 subreddits—that she knows of— which Reddit allowed her ex-boyfriend to repeatedly use to repeatedly post child pornography.”
The lawsuit also states that all of this has caused, “Ms. Doe great anxiety, distress, and sleeplessness…resulting in withdrawing from school and seeking therapy,” something common among other victims of image-based sexual abuse.
Reddit responded with a spokesperson, stating to The Verge:
“CSAM has no place on the Reddit platform. We actively maintain policies and procedures that don’t just follow the law, but go above and beyond it. We deploy both automated tools and human intelligence to proactively detect and prevent the dissemination of CSAM material. When we find such material, we purge it and permanently ban the user from accessing Reddit.”
However, many argue that these efforts are insufficient, and the class action has gone beyond Jane Doe’s case to include anyone who has had content posted of them on Reddit while they were minors.
Formally, The Verge reports that Reddit is being accused of site content that permits the distribution of CSAM, as well as failing to report CSAM, and violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Not the first time being accused of CSAM distribution
These claims are very serious, and the legal context in which they are being evaluated is controversial. However, CSAM possession and distribution are acts of abuse, and this is not the first time Reddit finds itself accused of promoting CSAM content.
In fact, the lawsuit states that Reddit itself has admitted that it is aware of the presence of CSAM on its website.
The lawsuit presents a series of examples of questionable content on the site, among which includes several now-removed subreddits with titles referencing “jailbait,” like an infamous forum that was removed in 2011 after media controversy. Per policy, it didn’t allow for nudity, though, according to the Verge’s report, it encouraged “sexually suggestive” content.
What can we do about CSAM?
CSAM, or any form of sexual abuse material for that matter, is clearly harmful and abusive. We sympathize with victims of image-based sexual abuse, like Jane, whose story is, unfortunately, becoming more and more common.
This current dilemma involving Reddit highlights the difficulty, either from inaction or inability, of many platforms, including popular mainstream porn sites, to adequately respond to and remove this illegal and hurtful content. It also reflects how there’s been an unfortunate increase of CSAM on the internet, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite this concerning reality, the issue is being addressed in our cultural and legal realm. There’s talk of legislation being passed that addresses the very issue Jane is facing, nonconsensual content distribution. Also, there are a few things we can do to combat this issue:
- Stay informed; know the facts. Through different resources like videos and articles, we can better understand the situation, a necessary starting point for solving any problem.
- Second, and most importantly, is to report nonconsensual content when you see it. Cliche as it may sound, this is one of the best ways to bring to light what seeps through the cracks of even the best technology and platform content moderators. Reddit offers reporting guides for several types of content.
- If you know someone or you yourself have been victimized by this type of abuse, there are also resources that can help.
This is no easy fight, but it’s one that’s worth it. Sexual abuse isn’t sexy, and nonconsensual content should not be normalized. You with us?
To report an incident involving the possession, distribution, receipt, or production of CSAM, file a report on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)’s website at www.cybertipline.com, or call 1-800-843-5678.