Sept 28 (Reuters) – Some major advertisers, including Dyson, Mazda, Forbes and PBS Kids, have suspended marketing campaigns or removed their ads from parts of Twitter after their promotions appeared alongside tweets soliciting child pornography, the companies told Reuters. they said.
DIRECTV and Thoughtworks also told Reuters late on Wednesday that they had stopped advertising on Twitter.
Brands ranging from Walt Disney Co ( DIS.N ), NBCUniversal ( CMCSA.O ) and Coca-Cola Co ( KO.N ) to a children’s hospital were among more than 30 advertisers appearing on the profile pages of their Twitter accounts. That exploit material, according to a Reuters review of accounts identified in a new investigation into online child sexual exploitation by cybersecurity group Ghost Data.
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According to a Reuters investigation, some of the tweets included keywords related to “rape” and “teenagers” and appeared alongside promotional tweets from corporate advertisers. In one example, a tweet promoting shoe and accessory brand Cole Haan appeared next to a tweet from a user saying they were peddling “teen/kids” content.
Cole Haan’s brand president, David Maddocks, told Reuters after the company’s notice that ads appeared alongside such tweets: “We’re horrified. Either Twitter will fix it or we’ll fix it by whatever means we can, including not buying Twitter ads.” “
In another example, a user tweeted searching for the content “Young Girls ONLY, NO Boys,” followed by a promotional tweet for Texas-based Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. Scottish Rite did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Twitter spokeswoman Celeste Carswell said in a statement that the company has “zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation” and is investing more resources dedicated to child safety, including hiring for new positions to write policies and implement solutions.
He added that Twitter is working closely with its advertising customers and partners to investigate the situation and take steps to prevent it from happening again.
Twitter’s difficulties in identifying child abuse content were first reported in late August in an investigation by tech news site The Verge. The backlash, which comes from advertisers critical to Twitter’s revenue stream, was first reported here by Reuters.
Like all social media platforms, Twitter prohibits depictions of child sexual abuse, which is illegal in most countries. But it generally allows adult content and is home to a thriving pornographic sharing scene, which accounts for about 13% of all content on Twitter, according to an internal company document seen by Reuters.
Twitter declined to comment on the amount of adult content on the platform.
Ghost Data identified more than 500 accounts that publicly shared or solicited child sexual abuse material over a 20-day period this month. Twitter failed to delete more than 70% of accounts during the study period, according to the group, which shared its findings exclusively with Reuters.
Reuters could not independently confirm the full accuracy of Ghost Data’s finding, but reviewed dozens of accounts that remained online and claimed material for “13+” and “young-looking nudists.”
After Reuters shared a sample of 20 accounts with Twitter last Thursday, the company removed about 300 additional accounts from the network, but more than 100 more remained on the site the next day, according to a Ghost Data and Reuters investigation.
Reuters on Monday shared the full list of more than 500 accounts that Twitter had reviewed and permanently suspended for violating its rules after it was provided by Ghost Data, Twitter’s Carswell said on Tuesday.
In an email to advertisers Wednesday morning, before this story was published, Twitter said it “discovered that ads were running on Profiles that involved the overt sale or solicitation of child sexual exploitation material.”
Andrea Stroppa, founder of Ghost Data, said the study was an attempt to assess Twitter’s ability to remove material. He said he personally funded the research after receiving advice on the subject.
Twitter’s transparency reports on its website show that it suspended more than 1 million accounts last year for child sexual abuse.
According to that organization’s annual report, it submitted nearly 87,000 reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a government-funded nonprofit that facilitates information sharing with law enforcement agencies.
“Twitter needs to fix this issue quickly, and until they do, we will stop any other paid activity on Twitter,” a Forbes spokesperson said.
“There is no place online for this kind of content,” a spokeswoman for automaker Mazda USA told Reuters, adding that in response the company is now banning its ads from appearing on its Twitter profile pages.
A Disney spokesperson called the content “offensive” and said that “the digital platforms we advertise on and the media buyers we use are redoubling their efforts to prevent such mistakes from happening again.”
A spokesperson for Coca-Cola, whose promotional tweet appeared on an account monitored by researchers, said it does not condone material associated with its brand and that “any breach of these standards is unacceptable and is taken very seriously”.
NBCUniversal said it asked Twitter to remove ads linked to inappropriate content.
Twitter is hardly alone in its struggles with moderation failures related to online child safety. Child welfare advocates say the number of known child sex abuse images has grown from thousands to tens of millions in recent years, as predators have used social networks, including Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, to groom victims and exchange racy images.
For the accounts identified by Ghost Data, nearly all child sexual abuse material traders sold the material on Twitter, then instructed buyers to contact them on messaging services such as Discord and Telegram to complete payment and receive the stored files. on cloud storage services such as New Zealand-based Mega and US-based Dropbox, according to the group’s report.
A Discord spokesperson said the company has banned one server and one user for violating its rules against sharing links or content that sexualizes children.
Mega said the link referenced in the Ghost Data report was created in early August and declined to be identified after it was deleted by a user soon after. Mega said two days later that it permanently closed the user’s account.
Dropbox and Telegram said they use different tools to manage content, but did not elaborate on how they would respond to the report.
Advertiser backlash still poses a risk to Twitter’s business, which makes more than 90% of its revenue by selling digital ad placements to brands looking to sell their products to the service’s 237 million daily active users.
Twitter is also in a court battle with Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk, who is trying to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company amid complaints about the proliferation of spam accounts and the impact on business.
A group of Twitter employees concluded in a February 2021 report that the company needs more investment to identify and remove child exploitation material at scale, noting that there is too much work to be done to review the company’s possible reporting to law enforcement.
“While the amount (of child sexual exploitation content) has grown exponentially, Twitter’s investment in its technology to detect and manage the growth has not,” according to a report prepared by an internal team to provide an overview of the child situation. Get legal advice on Twitter exploits and suggested strategies.
“Recent reports about Twitter give an outdated, snapshot view of just one aspect of our business in this space and are not an accurate reflection of where we are today,” Carswell said.
Traffickers often use code words like “cp” for child pornography and are “as vague as possible” to avoid detection, according to internal documents. The more Twitter interferes with certain keywords, the more “(Twitter) encourages users to use obscure text that becomes harder to automate,” the documents say.
Ghost Data’s Stroppa said such tricks would complicate efforts to hunt down material, but noted that his small team of five researchers and lack of access to Twitter’s internal resources were able to find hundreds of accounts within 20 days.
Twitter did not respond to a request for further comment.
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Reporting by Sheila Dang in New York and Katie Paul in Palo Alto; Additional reporting by Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles; Edited by Kenneth Lee and Edward Tobin
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