WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today sent a letter to Elon Musk, CEO of Twitter, about the apparent disconnect between Mr. Musk’s statements about eradicating online child sexual exploitation on Twitter and his company’s actual efforts to do so. In his letter, Durbin noted that while Twitter certainly had room for improving online child safety before Mr. Musk acquired it, reports indicate that Twitter’s approach to child safety has rapidly deteriorated on his watch.

“I know you are a father so I trust you will take this issue seriously… While you have claimed that ‘removing child exploitation is priority #1’ for Twitter, recent reports indicate that Twitter under your ownership is eliminating personnel who have worked to protect children and combat child sexual exploitation, including the sharing and collection of child sexual abuse material,” Durbin wrote. “I write to seek information that will help clarify whether Twitter is endeavoring to make its platform safe for kids.”

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Durbin continued, “On December 8, three members of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council resigned, stating that ‘it is clear from research evidence that, contrary to claims by Elon Musk, the safety and wellbeing of Twitter’s users are on the decline.’ On December 12, you dissolved the Trust and Safety Council entirely, with no apparent plan to replace it.”

Durbin also noted that no one from Twitter attended a two-day CyberTipline roundtable held on December 6-8 at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which brought together industry, non-governmental organizations, and government representatives to explore how to protect children online.

“And worst of all for children, on November 29, Bloomberg reported that on your watch there has been a 50 percent reduction in staff at Twitter’s child safety team. This is unacceptable in light of Twitter’s global legal obligations to address online child abuse, to say nothing of its moral obligations,” Durbin wrote.

In order to understand Twitter’s current efforts and commitments with respect to protecting children from sexual abuse online, Durbin asked Mr. Musk to provide answers by December 30, 2022, to a number of questions.

Full text of today’s letter is available here and below:

December 16, 2022

Dear Mr. Musk:

I know you are a father so I trust you will take this issue seriously. I am gravely concerned about the apparent disconnect between your statements about eradicating online child sexual exploitation on Twitter and your company’s actual efforts to do so. While you have claimed that “removing child exploitation is priority#1” for Twitter,[1] recent reports indicate that Twitter under your ownership is eliminating personnel who have worked to protect children and combat child sexual exploitation, including the sharing and collection of child sexual abuse material.[2] I write to seek information that will help clarify whether Twitter is endeavoring to make its platform safe for kids.

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While Twitter certainly had room for improving online child safety before you acquired it,[3] reports indicate that Twitter’s approach to child safety has rapidly deteriorated on your watch. On December 8, three members of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council resigned, stating that “it is clear from research evidence that, contrary to claims by Elon Musk, the safety and wellbeing of Twitter’s users are on the decline.”[4] On December 12, you dissolved the Trust and Safety Council entirely, with no apparent plan to replace it.[5] And worst of all for children, on November 29, Bloomberg reported that on your watch there has been a 50 percent reduction in staff at Twitter’s child safety team.[6] This is unacceptable in light of Twitter’s global legal obligations to address online child abuse, to say nothing of its moral obligations.[7]

This barebones staff may explain why no one from Twitter attended a two-day CyberTipline roundtable held on December 6-8 at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that brought together industry, non-governmental organizations, and government representatives to explore how to protect children online. The absence of Twitter from a collaborative event such as this does not bode well for its continued commitment to other coalitions it has joined to protect children online, including the Technology Coalition, which seeks to “drive critical advances in technology and adoption of best practices for keeping children safe online,” and the WeProtect Global Alliance, which “brings together experts from the government, the private sector, and civil society to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse.”[8]

It also stands in stark contrast to Twitter’s work in 2019 when it served as one of six industry representatives consulted by the five Country Ministerial government partners (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States)[9] to develop the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.[10]The Voluntary Principles “outline measures that companies in the technology industry can choose to implement to protect the children who use their platforms from sexual abuse online and to make their platforms more difficult for child sex offenders to exploit.”[11] Twitter also later helped develop a guide “for industry, by industry” to “assist tech companies considering operationalizing” the Voluntary Principles as appropriate to their platform or service.[12] The recent news about Twitter’s child safety team and Trust and Safety Council suggests that Twitter’s work on this effort will become a historical anomaly.

In order to understand Twitter’s current efforts and commitments with respect to protecting children from sexual abuse online, please provide answers by December 30, 2022, to the following questions:

  1. Prior to your acquisition of Twitter, how many personnel worked to address child safety at the company? What were their responsibilities? How much of Twitter’s operating budget, in dollars and as a percentage, was spent to address online child sexual exploitation and promote child safety?

  1. How many personnel are now working to address child safety? What are their responsibilities? How much of Twitter’s operating budget, in dollars and as a percentage, is spent to address online child sexual exploitation and promote child safety?

  1. If there has been a decrease in child safety staffing, how has that impacted Twitter’s ability to respond to child sexual exploitation? Please provide quantitative information if available, such as any changes in the average response time to search warrants, court orders, or other lawful requests for information; any changes in the number of reports of child exploitation made to the CyberTipline; or any changes in the length of time involved in the processing and submission of CyberTips or removal of explicit content upon user request.

  1. What policies or procedures does Twitter currently employ to promote online child safety?

  1. What tools or resources does Twitter need to improve its response to online child sexual exploitation? What are your plans to develop or obtain those tools or resources?

  1. As a signatory and founding participant, what steps is Twitter taking to implement the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse? What steps is Twitter taking to encourage other companies to endorse or implement the Voluntary Principles?

  1. As a member, what is Twitter doing to further the goals of the Technology Coalition and the WeProtect Global Alliance?

Read More:

Jan 5, 2023 | Belleville Man Sentenced To 15 Years In Prison For Sexual Exploitation Of A Minor

Oct 5, 2021 | Raoul Announces Webinar Series to Help Parents, Caregivers Keep Children Safe from Online Predators; Unveils Mobile Unit to Support Child Pornography

May 27, 2021 | Attorney General Raoul, Illinois State Police Director Kelly Highlight Increase In Online Child Sexual Exploitation Reports

Dec 2, 2022 | Attorney General Raoul Announces Macoupin County Man Enters Guilty Plea, Sentenced For Child Pornography

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