Having had access to the Internet for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen a fair bit. I have to say that the good far outweighs the bad. The information I’ve gleaned and the friendships I’ve forged make up for all of the spam and rubbish. People like to say that the Internet isn’t real life. For me, it’s part of real life.
As an opinionated sod and terrible jazz-hands show-off, I love Twitter and spend far too much time on it. The flip side of that is that I find myself involved constantly in numerous glorious conversations with hundreds of clever, funny, lovely people, quite a few of whom I have eventually met (usually on licensed premises). There is a shitty side to Twitter, as proved by the frequent ‘trending’ of hateful hashtags, promoting misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and racism, but that’s all easy enough to ignore if you follow good, decent people. And me.
Last night, though, something happened that I found myself unable to ignore. My friend @Nora_Noose re-tweeted a message asking everyone to report an account that was displaying images of the sexual abuse of children openly. The way Twitter is laid out meant that thumbnails of the images in question were visible on the profile page of the offending account. After what I saw inadvertently, reporting the account was the least I could do. I asked my followers to report the account, saying that I hoped they felt they could trust me when I said that they did not need to look at the account in order to do so. Of course, the only immediate reporting mechanism on Twitter is for spam. To report child pornography, there’s a special email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. Slightly labyrinthine, but if it deters frivolous complaints and enables prompt action where it’s needed, fine. I’m not a pitchfork mentality sort of chap. All I knew was that if enough people reported this account, Twitter would have to respond swiftly.
Twitter auto-responded swiftly, with a standard reply, the first paragraph running: “We’ve received your report of child pornography and will review it and process it as soon as possible. While we are unable to provide further follow-up to you directly, we will take action to remove and report the content once we’ve confirmed your report. Removed content may still be visible until you’ve refreshed your browser or cleared your browser’s history or cache.” Twitter is based in San Francisco. At the time I reported the account, it was around 7.30pm local time. I assumed that a multi-million pound company like Twitter might have someone on duty to process serious complaints, and, let’s be frank, they don’t get much more serious than this one.
An hour later when I went to bed, the account was still there. I saw a lot of people I like tweeting in genuine distress at what they had seen. These images had no place anywhere, but especially not on Twitter in plain view. I resolved that if the account was still live when I woke this morning, I would deactivate my Twitter account, possibly permanently. I want no part of anything that suspends a user for criticising a large American broadcasting organisation and posting an executive’s email address, but which fails to act when it is used to disseminate images of child sexual abuse. These weren’t links to external sites, by the way. These were directly uploaded images, hosted on Twitter’s own servers.
I say were. I should say are. 12 hours after I and many others reported the images, the account is still there. My account is not. This is partially principle, partially self-preservation. If I were on Twitter now, I would almost certainly be having pointless, stupid arguments I don’t want to have with people I don’t want to upset. At the time I left, a few people were suggesting, quite justifably, that I should never have drawn attention to the account. I can see their point perfectly and, on any other day, I’d probably agree with it. However, I was blindsided by the whole thing, and all I wanted to do was get the account and the images off Twitter. I did what I thought was best and most effective at the time. I can still rationalise it all perfectly. If you think I was misguided, or worse, I apologise.
Twitter know about the account. The Internet Watch Foundation is working hard to get the account closed down. Why it should have to work hard to do so beats the hell out of me. Res ipsa loquitur. The Metropolitan Police have been informed. Everything that can possibly be done has been done. There was, however, one thing we missed until the blessed @Octobrrr had an idea. The offending account was, nominally, a fan account for teenage singer and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Ronan Parke. Would Syco not be interested in hearing about one of its acts being used in such a way? I rang Sony Music and was asked to put the information in an email for the legal department. So I did:
“Subject: Ronan Parke Twitter
Hello. As requested on the telephone just now, here are the details of the offending Twitter feed. The account name is @xxxxxxxx, and the name at the top consists of Arabic script followed by ‘Ronan love’ in English. Most of the tweets consist of images of child pornography. I was made aware of the account late last night, and I immediately notified Twitter of its existence at the email address email@example.com, which is their address for dealing with child pornography issues. The Internet Watch Foundation has also been notified of its existence, but the account and the pictures are still online. I felt that it was something that your legal department would take very seriously indeed, hence my call just now.
Now, if the account is nuked as a result of intervention from the world’s most powerful music company, after 12 hours where Twitter did nothing, that will show Twitter’s priorities up once and for all. It will also put the world in the curious position of having to be genuinely grateful to Simon Cowell for something at long last.
UPDATE: “The profile you are trying to view has been suspended.” At last. A mere 14 hours after I reported it, and I know for a fact that I wasn’t the first person to do so. I wonder what clinched it for Twitter? Was it the IWF? Was it Syco? Or was it someone in San Francisco finally waking up to the fact that Twitter was hosting images of young boys being raped?