Events & Campaigns
Transactional Sexting and self-generated content recap
At the most recent INHOPE Expert Insights webinar, Niels van Paemel, policy advisor at Child Focus, shared how more academic research is needed to truly understand the nature of transactional sexting. This webinar raised more questions than it answered... find out why below.
The session was kicked off with an evaluation of the current state of the media environment, during which Niels van Paemel pointed out how deeply sexual objectification of women and girls is ingrained in media and advertisements. He explained that the reinforcement of power dynamics based on the degradation of women negatively contributes to the normalisation of sexual violence against women and girls. “The role of media as a mirror of our society is enormous.” – Niels van Paemel, Child Focus
What is transactional sexting?
Transactional sexting describes the exchange of sexual content for money and has seen a worrying increase in popularity since the beginning of Covid-19. According to Niels, with people stuck at home during the pandemic, many individuals specifically women were "inspired" to join the adult entertainment industry, which increased the number of OnlyFans users from 20 million before the pandemic to around 170 million. The drastic popularisation of subscription payment services like OnlyFans has created a higher need for creators to promote their content on other social media platforms. This heavy increase in content has made it more available on people's timelines including children's.
People who are influenced by a desire to be liked, often young people and children, are being lured onto so-called "shoutout" pages on social media platforms. On these profiles, users can promote themselves by submitting a picture to the profile owner who then reposts it on their page with many followers. These types of profiles are major distributors and often host Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), as they tend to specifically target young, vulnerable children.
“We need to stop blaming teens for societal problems without observing what is going on in the adult world” - Niels van Paemel, Child Focus
A case study
To showcase to the attendees the gravity of the issue, Niels van Paemel played a video by Belgian Journalist Jeffrey Dujardin who shared his most recent investigation into the world of shoutout pages. After creating a fake, AI-generated profile of a young girl he was almost immediately contacted by adult men attempting to solicit self-generated CSAM in exchange for payment. While some were very fast and direct with their intentions, others exhibited clear signs of grooming by attempting to establish trust through personal questions and solicit sexual content later on.
More than just transactional sexting
Pushing young children to sell sexual content online goes way beyond the term "transactional sexting" and encompasses many different types of sexual exploitation:
- The production of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)
- Non-consensual sharing of intimate images (NCII)
- Sexual extortion
“We cannot just go to prevention from here, we need to understand the reasons, and more research is needed for that” – Niels Van Paemel, Child Focus
Because this issue is relatively unknown and multi-faceted we must start by investing more resources into the research of this phenomenon to be able to better understand the structures that enable it, before we can build solutions to prevent it.
How can we address this with children?
Children are very susceptible to being drawn into submitting their profiles to shoutout pages as many young people place a lot of importance on social approval, represented through "Likes" and follower counts. We must teach children that a "Like" from a stranger on the internet does not have any actual value. While it is very normal for children to explore their sexuality online, they need to be equipped with the appropriate knowledge about digital safety. Additionally, we cannot underestimate the appeal of earning fast and easy money. It is crucial that we communicate the repercussions of children and young people distributing self-generated CSAM, and stress the importance of keeping their profiles private to prevent being targeted by predators.
A societal problem
Niels van Pamel shared with the audience, that an increasing amount of social media platforms are being taken over by predators hiding behind fake profiles. Technology platforms must start prioritising children's safety and invest more resources into their Trust and Safety teams. However, he also emphasised, that we have to treat this issue with nuance and have to consider other contributors that facilitate this phenomenon. "The key to the solution to end this problem is not only in the hands of our social media partners, but we need to deconstruct certain deeply rooted and sexualised patterns, not only with young people but also the adults that are giving the example" - Niels van Paemel, Child Focus
When it comes to transactional sexting we cannot think solely in terms of reaction and prevention but need to understand that this sexualisation starts early and is deeply rooted in our media environment. This highly engaging webinar resulted in a larger call for research on this phenomenon and what we can do to tackle it. Are you interested in being part of the initial step and deep-diving into the issue? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note: we have shared relevant questions from the chat with intended recipients. The full chat will not be shared for privacy reasons, thank you in advance for understanding.
While it is very normal for children to explore their sexuality online, they need to be equipped with the appropriate knowledge about digital safety to be able to do so safely.'