I don’t know if the world is more violent today than yesterday. I wasn’t there. I don’t know if the internet and social networks have unleashed violence that would not have surfaced without them. What is clear is that there are many more people whose job it is to confront this violence in order to protect the population. And I am convinced that it is time we recognize these professionals.
Online violence arrived as soon as the general public gained access to the Internet, around 1995 – first, with sexual offenses against children. It was not the accessibility of photos of rape against minors that was debated at the time – such photos were freely available on thematic “newsgroups” relayed by French telecommunications providers – but how the police force should intervene against internet hosts. These interventions have at least had the merit of bringing this young sector in full development, already very competitive and promised a bright future to be aware that it had to gather together, explain the constraints and specificities of the job, and offer an answer. The answer arrived at the turn of the 2000s with the launch of online services allowing citizens to report illegal content: Point de Contact in France, Bee Secure in Luxembourg, Child Focus in Belgium, etc.
This old question is still more relevant than ever: is preventing internet violence the responsibility of social networks? Today, 15 to 20 years later, after years of 50-100% increases in illegal content we realize that one must tackle the body to the treatment violence by those who treat it to protect us from it. In 2017, the INHOPE international network shared 90,000 reports of violent images and videos with its 50 member organizations – 79 percent of which concerned children 3-13 years old and 3 percent of which concerned 0-2-year-olds.
“We will never extinguish human violence, but we can fight it with a systematic method, combining speed, and a concentration of resources and public-private know-how.”
Internet violence has spread to include terrorism and incitement of hatred. For those whose job it is to analyze this content and direct it to relevant authorities and operators for action to be taken, the horrific images are no less shocking.
The diffusion of ultra-violent content will not stop, and the problem is overwhelming in its scale and complexity. We know that we will need men and women to confront it, analyze it and determine the actions to be taken with victims and perpetrators. They work for associations like Point de Contact, internet operators, social networks, police and intelligence forces. There are the journalists too, whose numbers have multiplied since 1995.
We do not have a clear response to this content and relevant professionals must come face to face with it daily. What can we do? We can stand together. In 2014, operatives in France pulled together and published a white paper that was a first practical book on the treatment of child sexual abuse content. In 2018, a new stage is crossed. This white paper was completely reprinted and extended to include incitement of terrorism content. It asserts a simple thought that I believe has not yet been openly stated: these professionals are society’s first line of defense. Whether they work for the authorities or the private sector, these operatives do important work. Those around them – their leadership, decision makers and boards of directors – must support them and empathize with what they see every day.
It seems to me that too often the men and women who confront the ultra-violence of our world have allowed all others, starting with their direct and indirect hierarchy, to look elsewhere. If the white paper we are publishing is useful for anything, it is to serve as a testament to these defenders that they are not alone, and that society is gradually beginning to value and support them. We will never extinguish human violence, but we can fight it with a systematic method, combining speed, and a concentration of resources and public-private know-how. Fighting and protecting people from violence is an endless challenge, but it is our only option.
Column by Jean-Christophe Le Toquin
Public Affairs Advisor for tech companies in cybersecurity & cybercrime