December 2, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Twitter has come under fire from free speech advocates for its hardline stance against “misgendering,” but the social network’s handling of users who express sexual interest toward children appears strikingly more nuanced.
Last week, the website Big League Politics identified a change to Twitter’s Child sexual exploitation policy that was made in June. The policy bans sharing sexually-suggestive material depicting children, any sort of attempted engagement of children in sexual conversations or recruitment, or “sharing fantasies about … child sexual exploitation.”
However, the June 2019 update added a “What is not a violation of this policy?” subsection, which states that “Discussions related to child sexual exploitation as a phenomenon or attraction towards minors are permitted, provided they don’t promote or glorify child sexual exploitation in any way” (emphasis added).
The change may have been made in response to lobbying by academics and activists who defend “minor-attracted persons” (MAPs). A coalition of such advocates wrote a letter to Twitter Trust & Safety director John Starr in January 2018 protesting the platform’s suspension of several “prominent anti-contact, non-offending pedophiles.” (Many so-called MAPs migrated to Twitter after Tumblr’s mass “adult content” purge last year).
“In our professional opinions, terminating the accounts of non-offending, anti-contact MAPs is likely to result in the opposite effect of that which Twitter may expect or intend,” the signatories argued. “Rather than reducing the incidence of child sexual abuse, if anything, it increases the risk that some pedophiles will be unable to obtain the peer or professional support that they may need in order to avoid offending behaviour. It is also likely to increase the stigma and isolation associated with pedophilia and thereby increase the likelihood of some MAPs acting on their sexual feelings.”
Vice noted that Twitter didn’t actually suspend several of the accounts in question until after The Sun embarrassed the company by highlighting the presence of “hundreds of men discussing their craving for children” on the platform, many of whom “use cartoon images in their profiles — raising fears they could be used to entice vulnerable youngsters.”
“At the end of the day, you’re not curing this,” Canadian Centre for Child Protection and Cybertip associate executive director Signy Arnason told Vice on the question of letting even “non-offending” users express pedophilic desires on social media. “You’re really just risk-managing these things, but I wouldn’t risk-manage it on social platforms where children are all over the place. That’s just not the way to do it.”
“If you are really committed to trying to demonstrate there are people with a sexual interest in children that don’t offend against those kids, there are other ways in which the community can be communicating with one another that doesn’t provide exposure and access to children,” she added, such as adults-only online forums where there’s no danger of crossing paths with a minor simply tweeting about food, hobbies, or entertainment.
The situation stands in stark contrast to Twitter’s record on political speech, which conservatives say carries a strong left-wing bias. There has been a long series of bans and suspensions affecting non-violent, non-hateful, non-obscene tweets from right-of-center perspectives (including LifeSiteNews), while Twitter insiders have admitted to intentionally targeting conservative accounts and topics.