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Sextortionists target teens on popular social media platforms

Published on June 27, 2024

Photo by Christian Erfurt via Unsplash

Sextortors target teens on popular social media platforms

By a Movieguide® contributor

Teenagers are the main target of sextortion, and Instagram is the most common platform for these acts, a new study reveals.

“The report, jointly released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and anti-child sexual abuse technology company Thorn, examines data on financial sextortion cases reported to NCMEC between 2020 and 2023 “, NBC News reported Monday. “The number of reports of sextortion increased significantly after 2022, to more than 600 reports per week over the past year. »

Most of the victims in the new report were Americans, while some were from other countries.

Historically, girls have been victims of sextortion. Recently this has changed.

Movieguide® reported this last October:

Experts warn that the number of sextortion scams targeting young men has “exploded in the last two years”.

These scams involve a predator posing as a young girl who asks young men to send sexually explicit videos and photos. Once they do, the predator demands money from the men or else they leak the content.

“They're asking the boys to do ridiculous things,” said Barbara Smith, a supervisory special agent with the FBI in Washington. “The more ridiculous it is, the better, because it's going to be more humiliating, and the more humiliating it is, the more money they can extort from them.”

“Among the financial sextortion reports that were part of the study and contained data on gender and age, 90 percent of the victims were boys aged 14 to 17,” NBC said.

The victims were most often victims of catfishing. In other words, the teenagers were tricked into believing that they were interacting with a certain person, when in reality they were interacting with someone who was hiding under a false identity. The perpetrators received explicit images or videos from the teenagers and then used them for blackmail purposes.

In some cases, AI has been used to create fake images or videos of the teens.

“The rise in financial sextortion has been linked to criminal networks in Nigeria and Ivory Coast, where the tactic has been promoted as a get-rich-quick method,” NBC said.

“In reports in which an offender threatened to distribute intimate images online, 81.3% threatened to distribute the material on Instagram,” NBC reported. “In cases where the material was actually distributed online, 60% of reports indicated that it was distributed on Instagram. YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat were also frequently cited in distribution threats, and Facebook was the second most common platform on which the material was actually distributed, behind Instagram, accounting for 33.7% of those reports.”

A YouTube spokesperson said: “We will review the report and take action against any content that violates our policies. We have strict policies in place to protect our users from scams and other harmful behavior, and we enforce them rigorously using a combination of human review and machine learning technology.

Snapchat said: “We know that sextortion is a risk that teens and adults face on various platforms, and we have developed tools and resources to help combat this phenomenon. We have additional safeguards in place for teenagers to protect them from unwanted contact and we do not offer public friend lists, which we know can be used to extort people. We also want to help young people learn to recognize the signs of this type of crime, and have recently launched in-app resources to raise awareness of how to spot and report it. »

Instagram and Snapchat were the most common places where teens received their first interaction from sextortionists. After the initial contact, perpetrators often move to a second platform to receive the explicit content. Snapchat was used as a secondary platform in 35.8% of cases while Google was used in 23.8%.

Instagram has a negative history of illicit activity.

Last winter, a New Mexico prosecutor, Gen. Raul Torres, sued Facebook and Instagram for their failure to protect children.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal published a report on Instagram that claimed the site was “openly dedicated to ordering and purchasing sexual content involving minors.”

Enforcement has been a major concern of the National Center on Child Exploitation (NCOSE) for many years. The organization said the app has “become a haven for predators, facilitating grooming, child sexual abuse, sextortion and sex trafficking with alarming notoriety.”

The organization also reported that it is the main platform on which child pornography authors distribute child pornography content and the main place where they come into contact with children.

The app is currently on NCOSE's Dirty Dozen list, which annually tracks the nation's top twelve companies that exploit children.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg was also asked about child safety on the app during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this year.

In a statement to NBC News, an Instagram spokesperson said: “Sextortion is a horrific crime. We are actively working to combat this abuse and helping law enforcement investigate and prosecute the criminals behind it. As NCMEC noted, higher reporting numbers are often the result of a platform’s efforts to detect and report abusive content — and we’ve spent years doing both. We’ve already implemented many of the report’s recommendations and recently announced a series of new features designed to help protect people from sextortion.”

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