I’m so pissed off. I just intended to look at our online analytics dashboard. I didn’t plan on being confronted with child sexual exploitation — not this hour, at least. But the sick problem we’re fighting finds us again and again. Because it’s real.
Let me backup.
I serve on the communications team. We create the Love146 website, videos, emails, and all our materials that reach you with stories and inspiration. And we track how those materials perform. Our analytics tell us how our audiences are engaging.
Some time ago, we redesigned our website and saw visits spike. Encouraging at first! But then we noticed our bounce rate (people leaving our website quickly after arriving) was also higher. When we looked more closely we found something really infuriating: the spike mostly came from people searching the term “child sex videos.” Our website certainly contained each of these words in various places, and it’s unclear on the surface what “Love146” is; someone could assume it was an explicit site. Evidently we were attracting precisely the audience we were fighting against. We considered creative responses to this (targeting those visitors with a pop up that called them out?), but ultimately a subsequent refresh of our website resolved the issue. Well, it didn’t “resolve the issue” at all… but it did, sadly, stop our website from interfering with these perverts.
It doesn’t matter how many children victimized by cybersex trafficking come into our programs, I’m still shocked. How many thousand people are looking for that this week alone? It’s horrifying.
Now this week, it’s happened again. We noticed one of our videos, “Remy’s Story,” had gotten about 100 times the typical volume of views (literally). So we sniffed around.
We found that someone running a Greek website had taken this video, of one of the youth in our care telling her story, and turned into voyeuristic clickbait. They plucked out one of the most vulnerable details in the story she shares — and paired it with a horrific image designed to get attention.
This (below) is a screenshot of the clickbait they made. That’s the image they chose to attach to the video of Remy’s story. It’s infuriating; it is never an image we would find acceptable when sharing the story of our clients.
This clickbait draws rubberneckers curious to peer into a salaciously messed up situation. At worst, it might attract those looking for abusive incest-related pornography. They posted this on their site, along with the video. And thus, the spike in views. Again, most people didn’t spend very long watching the video, because a dignified story of humanity, compassion, and resilience was not what they were looking for. How dare someone take the story of one of the young people in our care, degrade it, and then exploit that for ad revenue (which is what their site was doing).
You might think, “Well, people look for messed up videos to watch. It’s probably not that big of a deal.” But it is. Videos that users were actually looking for — abuse imagery — generate money, and that money incentivizes violent abusers to get in front of cameras and produce more.
Many of the children in our Survivor Care have been hurt in this way.
You might think this problem is something far off, on the fringes, something you have to look closely for. It’s not true; there in our web analytics, the monster of sexual exploitation can be found. But know this: Our web analytics on normal days, and even this week, are dominated by people trying to help. People like you, who care. And we know there are more of you, trying to help, than those who are trying to exploit. Keep showing up — it matters that more of us are trying to help children than hurt them.