Dyson, Mazda, Forbes, PBS Kids, DIRECTV, Thoughtworks and other major advertisers have either suspended or paused their Twitter marketing campaigns after discovering their ads were seen alongside tweets soliciting child pornography, according to a report by Reuters.
Reuters based its report on new research by cybersecurity group Ghost Data, which shows that 30 advertisers -- including Disney, NBCUniversal, Coca-Cola and a Texas-based children’s hospital -- appeared on the pages of Twitter accounts promoting links to child pornography.
Ghost Data named over 500 accounts openly sharing or requesting child sexual abuse material over a 20-day period in September, citing that Twitter failed to remove over 70% of the accounts.
While the accuracy of Ghost Data’s findings has still not been confirmed, Reuters conducted its own research, reviewing dozens of accounts that remain on Twitter soliciting materials for “13+,” “rape,” “teens,” and “young looking nudes,” the publication reported.
Last Thursday, Reuters shared a 20-account sample with Twitter. The social media giant then removed around 300 additional accounts from the network while over 100 remained on Twitter the next day.
In one example of disturbing content appearing beside tweets from corporate advertisers, a Cole Haan tweet was seen alongside a user’s tweet mentioning “trading teen/child” content.
Cole Haan president David Maddocks told Reuters that the brand is “horrified,” making it clear that if Twitter does not fix these issues, “we’ll fix it by any means we can, which includes not buying Twitter ads.”
Spokespersons from Forbes, Coca-Cola, NBCUniversal, Disney, and Mazda offered similar responses, with the carmaker deciding to permanently prohibit its ads from running on Twitter profile pages.
“Yung girls ONLY, NO Boys” was another tweet that appeared alongside branded content for a children’s hospital in Texas.
Child abuse content was first reported on Twitter by The Verge in August. Twitter spokesperson Celeste Carswell told Reuters that the company “has zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation,” and is currently investing in child safety by hiring new positions to write policy and implement solutions, as well as working with its advertising clients and partners to prevent further issues.
Ghost Data found that almost all of the accounts pedaling abusive child content on Twitter were also present on other messaging apps, instructing buyers to reach them on Discord and Telegram and complete payments on New Zealand-based cloud storage service Mega, and U.S.-based Dropbox.
Twitter’s internal reports show that it suspended over 1 million child sexual exploitation accounts in 2021. However, a team of employees issued a report in February 2021 that the company needed to do more to remove this harmful material at scale.
Carswell told Reuters that these reports are now outdated and don’t provide “an accurate reflection of where we are today.”