A minor boy and his mother are suing Twitter, alleging that it benefited from and neglected to remove an exploitative video -- featuring him and another minor -- which was retweeted thousands of times and at least 167,000 views on the platform.
Announced on Wednesday, the federal lawsuit claims that the minor, John Doe, and his mother repeatedly contacted Twitter about the content, but the social media giant allegedly didn't suspend accounts distributing it until a federal agent from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intervened.
According to the filing, one or multiple traffickers tricked the boy into providing explicit images to a Snapchat account he was led to believe belonged to a 16-year-old girl. After obtaining the explicit content, the traffickers allegedly blackmailed the boy into providing the video that ultimately spread on Twitter.
"Plaintiff John Doe was solicited and recruited for sex trafficking as a minor," reads the lawsuit brought in part by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). "After John Doe escaped from the manipulation, child sexual abuse material depicting John Doe was disseminated on Twitter. When Twitter was first alerted to this fact and John Doe’s age, Twitter refused to remove the illegal material and instead continued to promote and profit from the sexual abuse of this child."
Twitter did not directly respond to this specific accusation when contacted by Fox News. Nor did it respond to the claim that it only suspended related accounts when a federal agent intervened.
Instead, a spokesperson told Fox News: "Twitter has zero-tolerance for any material that features or promotes child sexual exploitation. We aggressively fight online child sexual abuse and have heavily invested in technology and tools to enforce our policy. Our dedicated teams work to stay ahead of bad-faith actors and to ensure we’re doing everything we can to remove content, facilitate investigations, and protect minors from harm — both on and offline."
Wednesday's lawsuit was just one of many to emerge in recent months as large content distributors like Pornhub faced mounting scrutiny over Child Sex Abuse Material (CSAM) and sex trafficking victims on their platforms. Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter generally enjoy immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which former President Trump and others have suggested repealing due to apparent political bias in the way platforms censor content.
John Doe's filing highlights how Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently defended his decision to permanently suspend Trump, using his statements as evidence that of selective enforcement.
"We found it very interesting that Twitter, over the last few months, has really shown the world what kind of policing of their platform they are capable of, what the technology is they have at their fingertips, and what they are able to do," Lisa Haba, partner at the Haba Law Firm, told Fox News in an interview. She's serving as co-counsel with the NCOSE and the Matiasic firm in San Francisco.
Alluding to post-election content moderation, she added that "you would think that amongst everything they are able to police that there would be a premium priority on the protection of children. They literally have policies stating that they'll do that but their practices say another word." Twitter has denied enforcing its policies with a political bias.
The filing also details communication between John Doe, his mother and Twitter. One email shows Twitter telling John Doe on Jan. 28, 2020, that it "reviewed the content, and didn't find a violation of our policies, so no action will be taken at this time."
"What do you mean you don't see a problem?" the minor asks in a response that same day. "We both are minors right now and were minors at the time these videos were taken. We both were 13 years of age." Haba told Fox News that video accumulated 167,000 views within a day. A screenshot also shows it obtaining more than 2,200 retweets and 6,640 likes.
John Doe is seeking damages under the federal Trafficking Victims' Protection Reauthorization Act, and claiming the platform was a significant cause of his distress. As the suit noted, recent legislation has clarified that Section 230 doesn't apply to platforms that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking.
DHS told Fox News it wasn't able to comment on pending litigation.