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Anonymity on Twitter aids child abusers in Japan

Elon Musk’s task isn’t that difficult if he’s really committed to protecting minors on the site

In this file photo taken on Oct. 4, a phone screen displays a photo of Elon Musk with the Twitter logo shown in the background, in Washington, DC

In this file photo taken on Oct. 4, a phone screen displays a photo of Elon Musk with the Twitter logo shown in the background, in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 01, 2022 03:13 AM GMT

Updated: December 01, 2022 04:03 AM GMT

When people heard Elon Musk saying Twitter’s top concern is to eliminate child sexual exploitation content on the platform, maybe few realized the scale to which Twitter is used not only for promoting pornographic material involving minors but also as a scouting platform to lure underage girls into prostitution. This is especially true in Japan.

Just recently a Japanese professor, who had a well-established career in a school and as an author, was discovered paying a barely 18-year-old for sex. He had found the girl on Twitter and both, it goes without saying, were using anonymous accounts.

In 2021, sexual offenses committed against minors in Japan — that were discovered and reported — stood at 1,812 of which 36.8 percent were carried out through the “support” of Twitter. This was exactly double the figure of Instagram, which is usually perceived to be a platform where women show off in very licentious clothes.

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Just last July there was a huge sex scandal concerning one of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers, Takeru Yoshikawa. The government party politician was caught on camera taking an 18-year-old into a restaurant where he made her drink alcohol, which is illegal in Japan for those under 20, and then paid her the equivalent of US$300 to go to a hotel and have sexual intercourse.

All this would have been impossible if it wasn’t for Twitter. As it turned out, the politician used a fake account to hide his identity and subsequently freely roamed the platform hunting for underage girls offering sex, all having anonymous accounts.

This may very well be a warning for the Church itself, as we know from history that children abused by priests in Asia, especially in the Philippines, are often exposed due to the fact that these predators live in communities where they are well known to be spiritual figures. This, on the one hand, is a useful hook that helps the predator get closer to the children, and on the other hand, has its weakness.

"The use of Twitter through anonymous accounts made the implementation of any countermeasure very difficult"

Being community leaders means their identity is exposed. That means if suspected of committing a crime they can be easily reported to the authorities. Not only that, but the culture of silence, denial and passivity among local clergy, leading to the crime not being reported, is an offense under Church law. By enabling child abuse to occur in fact one can be charged with being an accessory to the crime, according to Philippine penal law.

But what happens if a priest doesn’t present himself as such but hides his identity under an anonymous Twitter account? It means his risk of being exposed is much lower, not only to authorities but also to those adults who, in a Catholic community, would always be around children, being clergy, nuns or simply parents. 

What is even worse is that Japan’s Twitter is also used for a more macabre purpose. A recent case where a 27-year-old had begun to explore the platform to search for people who wanted to kill themselves speaks for itself.

This man contacted the potential “prey” saying he too wanted to take his own life, immediately arousing empathy. He told them he knew an easy and painless way to die and was in possession of the “right rope” and the ideal place (a loft) where the would-be suicide could not in any way run the risk of causing painful agony, say due to a wrong knot. Nine people trusted him and joined him in his apartment and never came out alive.

For at least 15 years the Japanese government has been looking for solutions to reduce similar crimes. But it turned out that the use of Twitter through anonymous accounts made the implementation of any countermeasure very difficult.

We believe Elon Musk’s statement when he says he wants to eliminate child exploitation on his newly acquired platform. We also know it would be extremely easy to do so provided someone had the will to undertake such a task.

It could be as easy as pushing a button for Musk, as he did while asking for US$8 from anyone who wanted to have their high-status verified icon on the Twitter profile. It could take very little to have everyone's profile vetted before letting them interact on the platform. As Musk himself said, free speech doesn’t mean the freedom of breaking the law.

And the law is clear, underage prostitution is a crime as is also soliciting child prostitution. These are all crimes that carry heavy punishment, so long as they are discovered. But the anonymous use of Twitter accounts makes that mission almost impossible.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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