Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reflections and Expectations

In the few months since this blog started, a lot has changed.  In November when it started, there were a number of users on Facebook blatantly advertising their interest in child pornography.  Some would even post links and invitations to trade on open walls.  Facebook has since gotten more aggressive about shutting those accounts down, though it may never be possible to completely block predatory users.  A number of concerned citizens have gotten very upset about the situation, and some have even set up a website and sent postcards to Facebook.

There may be some conflict between expectations and reality.  When I started this blog, most of my understanding of child pornography had come from news stories about people getting arrested.  There weren't too many of them in my community, and I was inclined to assume that very few people were interested in child pornography and the ones who did got quickly arrested.  So it was hard to understand why some of the people I saw weren't in jail.

Since then, I've learned that the sheer volume of child pornography on the Internet is staggering, and none of the major social networks are completely free of predators.  There are a number of dedicated law enforcement professionals working hard to combat the problem, but the situation has been compared to drinking out of a fire hose.

Why can't Facebook and other social networks completely block pedophiles and child pornography from their sites?  It turns out to be a much harder technical problem than many activists realize.  It is often impossible for a system to recognize that an image is child pornography and when there are millions of accounts, it's not feasible for a human to manually review all images and videos that users post to a site.  Child pornography traders generally try not to call attention to themselves and are less likely to get reported by other users than spammers or a malicious trolls.  Even when someone who posts child pornography is detected and reported to law enforcement, their country may or may not take action.

A number of concerned citizens are currently demanding that Facebook eliminate child pornography from its site.  It's easy to understand why people are upset and angry about child exploitation, but harder to accept that there's only so much Facebook or any other social network can do about it.  The best case scenario may be that some people get arrested and most of the child pornography traders migrate elsewhere.  But no matter how proactive the social networks are, child pornography is going to continue to be a hard problem.


  1. That reasoning is pure B.S.! These software developers, computer programmers have the technology to be able to read and red flag when a Facebook user types in the words: "10yo girls," "PTHC," "Incest," or any variation of these words to automaticaly detect, contain and block that particular ISP from accessing Facebook. If number recognition software can read the license plate number of someone traveling over 60mph and get the information of(owner, registration, address, and any other information associated with that particular license plate number)then the same technology can be applied to Facebook.

  2. There are some legitimate uses for some of those words, believe it or not. "PTHC" has also stood for some things that have nothing to do with CP, and people would throw a fit if FB shut down an "Incest Survivors" support group. It's sometimes possible to automatically recognize known CP, but that technology has its limitations. And blocking at the IP level has some problems too. What if it was actually a public library or something that provided access to a number of users? There's also the possibility that someone could just reboot their router and come back with a new IP.