Sunday, March 23, 2014

high shock value; low information value

Fourteen men arrested for exploiting children via the Internet. 
Twenty-seven thousand subscribers of the website operated by those arrested.
Two hundred fifty-one victims as young as 3 years old. 
Forty terabytes of pornographic images.

According to a Reuters article on, a Department of Homeland Security investigation uncovered a 27,000-member, subscriber-only website (or websites; it is not clear) that made child pornography available. 

According to a USA Today article,
Those members and users, according to documents, "coerced hundreds of minor boys to record themselves engaging in sexually explicit conduct.'' Unknown to the child victims, the videos were allegedly transmitted to Johnson's sites, allowing members to view and download the videos.
This sounds horrifying. Some of it may be but let's sort out the words calculated to shock and frighten us.

On the USA Today video, the ICE spokesman says the amount of storage needed for the porn on the web servers was 
...forty terabytes, five times the size of all the information stored by the Library of Congress.
That's an impressive number, to be sure. Not many of us have an external drive that holds even a single terabyte, so forty terabytes must be, like, VAST. On the same video, a line from a court document is highlighted:
...websites contained approximately 2000 sexually explicit videos of young boys...
It is safe to say that a boy masturbating in front of a webcam (with parents and/or siblings down the hall) is not likely to produce a full two-hour movie so those 2000 videos cannot account for all forty terabytes. The website must have offered images other than those of the boys, perhaps even--dare to imagine--legal pornography. 

In addition, the comparison to the size of the Library of Congress ignores the fact that no one knows how many terabytes (or petabytes) of storage the LOC would require if all its documents--and movies!--were digitized. The comparison was used for effect, not for accuracy.

The victims were all boys ages 13-15, with the exception of eight girls and two boys around three years old. Members and operators of the website enticed the boys to perform on camera and the images then ended up on the website. Sometimes the operators/members posed as young girls asking the boys to show or do something for the camera.

Hard to tell if the subscribers were all seeking child porn or how many of them were involved in soliciting the illegal images or how long any of them were subscribers. Was it a month-by-month subscription so that the same subscriber could be counted multiple times? (Rest assured that the feds have already collected as much data about the subscribers as possible from the website. I imagine they could answer my question if they were so inclined.)

Given the information we have, the victims were enticed, not forced, so we have teen-aged boys, foolishly performing before a webcam. The two little ones? Those images are not described, but if someone did something to or with those little guys, they should be held responsible. On the other hand, if the images are not described, perhaps the images don't have the shock value needed for the story.

If over 200 boys will perform for a webcam when a stranger entices them, how many boys are doing the same for their real-life friends? In this case, the boys are called victims and ICE can claim to have saved them from the bad guys. 

In other cases, teens who upload naughty videos are called child pornographers.

A careful reading of the story should raise questions as well as eyebrows. 


Anonymous said...

The Library of Congress' website states
“A TB, or terabyte, is about 1.05 million MB. All the data in the American Library of Congress amounts to 15 TB.” . So in fact 40 terabytes of the evidence found is not "five times" that of the Library of Congress, but only 2.667, 3 if rounded up.

I must also add that the federal government will not tell you whether it is old content they have discovered or new content.


Marie said...

Excellent point, Anoni. The child porn that is freely available online includes both old and new images, not to mention duplicate images. The old images can be decades old. Common sense (but not the feds, as you noted) tells us that most of the images are old.

We should all be very disappointed if a digitized Library of Congress amounted to only 15TB, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Marie it will take this country a couple of more years to realign its priorities. The only way that will happen is if the primary mindset of society is liberal. There is much I can talk about, but the thing is I can't show my face in public to defend my opinion for I will be feathered and tarred.

And yes ha! 15TB is way too little for the amount of history that could be stored!