Many years ago, back when huge levels of spam involved hundreds of thousands of emails, there was a group of people who spent a lot of time talking about what to do about abuse. One of the distinctions we made was abuse of the net as opposed to abuse on the net. We were looking at abuse of the network, that is activity that made the internet less useable. At the time abuse of the network was primarily spam; sure, there were worms and some malicious traffic, but we were focused on email abuse.
In the last 20 years, multiple industries have arisen around network abuse. I’m sitting at a conference with hundreds of people discussing how to address and mitigate abuse online. In the context of the early discussions, we’re mostly focused on abuse of the network, not abuse on the network.
But abuse on the network is an issue. It’s a growing issue, IMO. The internet has contributed to the rise and normalization of the alt-right. Social media is a medium used for abuse on the net. Incidents range from bullying of school kids to harassment of celebrities to sharing of child abuse material. All of these things are abuse on the net. They are an issue. They need to be addressed.
Today M3AAWG gave the 2017 Mary Litynski Award to Mick Moran from Interpol for his work in fighting child exploitation and abuse on the net. As I tweeted during the session, I have a phenomenal amount of respect for Mick and people like him who work tirelessly to protect children online. I don’t talk much about child abuse materials*, but I know the problem is there and it’s bad.
One of the discussions I’ve had with some folks lately is how we can better fight abuse on the net. Many of the tools we’ve built over the years are focused on volume – more complaints mean a more serious incident. But in the case of abuse on the net, or who is wrong. volume isn’t really an issue. It’s a hard problem to solve. It’s easy to create a system that lets the good guys get information, but it’s hard to create a system that also keeps the bad guys out and prevents gaming and is effective and values single complaints of problems.
Folks like Mick, and the abuse teams at ISPs all over the world, are integral to finding and rescuing abused and exploited children. Their work is so important, and most people have no idea they exist. On top of that, the work is emotionally difficult. Some of my friends work in that space, dealing with child abuse materials, and all of them have the untold story of the one that haunts them. They don’t talk about it, but you can see it in their eyes and faces.
We can do better. We should do better. We must do better.
*Note: Throughout this post I use the term “child abuse materials” to describe what is commonly called child pornography. This is because porn isn’t necessarily bad nor abusive and the term child porn minimizes the issue. It’s important to make it clear that children are abused, sometimes for years, in order to make this material.