Sunday, December 11, 2016

pulling misused images of a child off the Internet

How would you react if you learned that pictures of your kids were available on child porn websites? Most of us would be desperate to stop the abuse, desperate to find out who the abuser is, and desperate to pull those photos from the Internet.

Here is the story of a mother chasing down photos of her daughter, photos that were not pornographic. The little girl was photographed with Hillary Clinton and Clinton opponents turned the photo into a meme that included statements the mother didn't want associated with her daughter. The mother fought back against what she saw as offensive use of her daughter's image.
...more than a year later — the day after Clinton lost the election and as Jones was processing her own grief over the loss — their treasured photo was turned into something sinister. Someone had taken the photo, originally uploaded to the Clinton campaign Flickr page, and turned it into a meme that was then shared thousands of times across social media. 
Bold white type across the top of the image read, “I AM FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS!” Then halfway down, text covering the lower half of Sullivan’s body accused Clinton of accepting money and refugees from countries “that would mutilate this girl’s genitals, marry her to a Muslim pedophile, and stone her to death if she doesn’t wear a bedsheet.”
The message turned the little girl's picture into something ugly and by the time her mother realized how it had been used, much time had passed.
...she searched for the photo online and found thousands of blogs and feeds on Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook that shared the image. She believed what she’d always been told: Once something is on the Internet, it’s there forever.
“I felt like I failed her,” Jones said. “As a mother, your job is to protect and fix things, and I wasn’t able to fix it. I’ve never felt so low in my life with this image being out there that I had no control over.”
Parents who learn that a pornographic image of their child is available on the Internet surely feel a similar helplessness.
She traced one photo to a Facebook page, “Men for Donald Trump,” which has more than 200,000 followers. She implored them to take it down. At first they resisted, but after dozens of her friends bombarded them with messages, they obliged. It was a victory, but a small one. That was only one site. There were countless more. Was it even possible to go to each one and make the same request?
If a parent tried to search out pornographic images of his or her child, the parent would be committing the crime of downloading child pornography.
Several days later, she posted about it on Pantsuit Nation, the Facebook group of more than 3 million that started as a secret pro-Clinton page and has morphed into a massive online community where people share stories and seek support. Jones asked if they could help her report the image one-by-one. 
Imagine asking millions of people to help you find images of your child on child porn websites. How quickly do you think law enforcement would be at your door?
Soon messages poured into her inbox offering help. This person knew someone at Pinterest who could help; another had a contact at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Then she got a message from Shaun Kozolchyk, the San Francisco director of development for the Anti-Defamation League. 
“I am a mother of my own two daughters. I was so horrified and deeply affected by that post and knew the work we do at ADL could be a space that could be helpful,” Kozolchyk said. 
She contacted a colleague who works on cyber-hate response issues, who immediately verified that the Clinton campaign held the copyright to that photo. Any unauthorized use of it was against the law. The ADL sent a take-down notice to the originating sites and, soon after, it disappeared from the Internet.
What a relief that must be--a relief that parents of children in child porn images will not feel. After a child porn user is arrested, the child porn images are still available. When child porn sites are discovered, law enforcement may not shut it down immediately, allowing users to continue downloading images.
“When I got all this response from all these people from all over the country, it’s going to sound cheesy, but it felt like this giant blue blanket of love wrapped over me, and I didn’t feel alone anymore,” Jones said. “There were so many people, who said, ‘we got you.’” 
But what happened next gives Jones reason to believe her fight had a wider cause. When she shared again on Pantsuit Nation what the ADL had been able to do, others started coming forward saying their child’s image had been used in a meme. They just didn’t think there was anything they could do about it.
This mom is spreading hope to other parents who want to fight back against those who misuse images of their children. Parents who want to do the same with pornographic images of their child are out of luck. No hope for them.

Child porn laws prevent parents from stopping the dissemination of images of their children. The images, which may be the only evidence of child sex abuse crimes, are driven underground, making it harder to find them and harder to identify who created the images. Children who are abused for porn production are left with no protection, no giant blue blanket of love, no one who says we got you.

The laws concentrate on punishing those who would use child porn; the lawmakers ignore the dangerous consequences of driving the images underground.

Which is more offensive? The knowledge that someone is using the images for sexual gratification or the knowledge that someone is abusing a child?

What awful helplessness is caused by well-meaning laws.

Related, a post from October 2013: when embarrassing pictures go viral


Ethan Edwards said...

Sorry I haven't commented in a while. All your posts are thought-provoking and interesting and I mostly agree with them.

I'd forgotten my role in the 2013 post you link to.

In the past, when I heard about wanting to decriminalize CP to help catch the people who make it, I was skeptical, and thought it was just a rationalization for wanting to look at abuse images. But I'm thinking about your point here, about how it can be liberating for someone to track down pictures of theirs that are misused and take action. In practice, I think very few people would do that. But maybe knowing they could would be worth something in itself. Maybe some people could hire others to do it for them.

To me, it's part of the bigger pattern of how an ordinary person can get caught up in a child porn possession case when they have only the best intentions. Oh, the police might get you, but you can trust they won't prosecute you unless you're one of the bad guys -- which they will determine. (Maybe it will be because you're a pedophile -- or maybe because you're in the wrong political party, from their point of view...) In the UK they seem to have recently accepted this line of reasoning hook, line, and sinker -- make everything illegal and trust the police to only prosecute the bad guys.

How much nicer to think that you can follow any link you like, look at any image you like, and not worry about the government breaking down your door. From the US Supreme Court in 1969, "If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.” Yes, terrible things have been caught on video, but it's not the government's business to track down and prosecute people who might be thinking bad thoughts while looking at them.

Marie said...

Thanks for the comment, Ethan. It isn't easy for me to advocate for legalization of child porn images when thinking about how that would make it easier for someone to use the images for sexual gratification. I don't want to make it easier for someone to look at images I think they shouldn't be looking at. I would not make it easier by providing the URLs for child porn images or of beheading videos, for example. Making it illegal, though, hasn't stopped people from looking at the illegal images and hasn't stopped people from producing new images.

Prohibition hasn't solved any problems with vice--not getting drunk, not getting high, and not getting off on pictures of children.

Looking at or owning images of ugly events should not be illegal. Your last paragraph says it well.