Children find porn on Twitter more than anywhere else. Here’s how it lets them

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Controversial social media platform Twitter has become one of the most easily accessible places for minors to find pornography, and is in the sights of advocates for restrictions based on age verification.

Unlike sites dedicated to adult content, Twitter and Reddit can evade parental controls and be accessed through apps and app stores because they’re technically communication platforms.

Despite publishing adult content, Twitter is regarded as a communication platform.Credit: Marija Ercegovac

A recent report from the UK’s Children’s Commissioner found Twitter was the site on which the greatest proportion of children had seen adult sexual content, more than on dedicated pornography sites.

Twitter and Reddit’s social media classifications also let the sites avoid the scrutiny over issues such as the legality of the content and the welfare of the actors that are faced by sites such as Pornhub, which in 2020 took down unverified content after coming under pressure following a New York Times investigation.

Documents obtained by international newswire Reuters found 13 per cent of content on Twitter – which allows 13-year-olds to sign up – was pornographic.“Not safe for work” (NSFW) content was among the highest-growing topics of interest among English-speaking users, which spooked advertisers.

Last year, before billionaire Elon Musk took over, the company reportedly considered OnlyFans-style paid subscriptions for adult content creators, but dropped the idea when an internal team found the platform was unable to detect sexual exploitation and non-consensual nudity at scale.

The thorny issue of Twitter and Reddit – which bills itself as a network of special-interest online communities – was raised when the eSafety’s Commission’s report was being drawn up for the federal government on how Australia could introduce age verification, among a number of proposed measures to stop minors accessing explicit adult content.

The Herald has reported this week that children in primary school are being exposed to porn by their peers; and adolescents are reporting violent behaviour – such as choking – in early sexual encounters. The president of the Children’s Court, Nell Skinner, has said victims of sexual assault who come before her are describing more violent acts.

One international adult site pointed out that Restricted To Adult (RTA) labelling rules did not apply to apps, but some of those sites allowed explicit content under their terms of service.

“In their experience, there is adult content on many social media sites, but limited warnings, filtering, or due diligence in checking uploaded content,” the consultation report said. Some said Twitter and Reddit should be included in any age verification laws.

Curtin University Professor Tama Leaver said Twitter’s explicit content was not visible to anyone who had given their age as under 18, or was browsing without logging in. However, “it’s easy to put in a different [birth] date,” he said.

“Ultimately, the app stores are supposed to be relatively PG [parental guidance]. Twitter and Reddit both get around those, essentially because they are not primarily aimed at being pornographic websites, they are communication channels where people might put adult content.”

Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.Credit: Rhett Wyman/SMH

He said it was unlikely that Twitter would use its mooted paid content feature, Super Follows, to attract the adult industry. “Twitter is in such disarray that if you were looking to set up any kind of money-making setup, you’d go somewhere else like OnlyFans,” he said.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said Twitter had allowed pornography since it was founded in 2006, and porn actors regularly issued links to their content.

“Of particular concern is the exposure of children to increasingly extreme and violent pornography without proper context explaining that much of this material is not a representation of what healthy, consensual relationships should look like,” she said.

“The only restrictions put in place by Twitter to protect children from accidental exposure to such material have involved labelling porn in the header or profile and a requirement that adult workers use interstitials – or blurring technologies. But it’s arguable how effective Twitter has been in policing these restrictions.

“Reddit, a social media site popular with young people, also reportedly includes a significant amount of mostly unrestricted pornographic content.

“This is precisely why our age verification road map, provided to the Australian government last month, looks at a range of options to address the issue over a broad range of platforms and sites where children may be exposed to porn.”

A spokeswoman for Reddit said more than 90 per cent of its users were adults and the site was not marketed to minors. It had age-based controls such as requiring users to attest to being 18, a 17+ classification in app stores, and age-gating on mature content, requiring users to confirm they were adults before they saw it.

If users self-identified as under 13 or under 18 in mature sections of the site, they were permanently banned.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all users on our platform,” she said. “We are continuing to evaluate how we can best approach age-gating while protecting our users’ privacy, and our tools and techniques will likely continue to evolve.”

Reddit’s policy is to blur NSFW content that’s been flagged by the online community or moderators. Users can change their settings to enable or disable NSFW content.

Twitter’s online policy states it does not allow violent, hateful or adult content within areas of the site that are “highly visible”.

Twitter did not respond to our questions.

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