Stop It Now, Internet Watch Foundation and Pornhub launch first of its kind chatbot to prevent child sexual abuse

28 September 2022

People trying to view sexual images of children online will trigger a first-of-its-kind chatbot, which has launched to help potential offenders stop their behaviour.

The reThink chatbot, which has launched on adult website Pornhub, will engage with adult pornography users attempting to search for sexual imagery of children.

It will then engage users in a conversation and signpost them to Stop It Now! UK and Ireland where they will receive help and support to address their behaviour.

The aim is for the chatbot to deter potential offenders before they commit a criminal offence – helping to prevent crimes and reduce the demand for illegal material.

Stop It Now! runs a helpline and provides online support for people concerned about their own sexual thoughts, feelings, or actions towards children to stop their illegal or risky behaviour.

The chatbot was developed by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in partnership with Stop It Now UK and Ireland. MindGeek has volunteered to pilot the chatbot on the Pornhub UK platform, and did not receive, or provide, any funding for this project.

The IWF is the UK-based international non-profit which finds and removes images and videos of child sexual abuse from the internet.

Whenever someone visiting the Pornhub site appears to search for sexual images of children, it will prompt a message pop-up informing them that no results exist, and warning them that they have attempted to search for potentially abusive and illegal imagery.

The warning also provides them with links to get help from Stop It Now! to stop their risky or illegal behaviour. With this new chatbot initiative, users in the UK will additionally be directed to the chatbot’s deterrence conversation. The project has been funded by the Safe Online Initiative at End Violence.

This is the first project of its kind to use chatbot technology to intervene when people are attempting to search for sexual images of children and try to help them stop, or not start, offending.

Pornhub will block searches based on a constantly evolving, extensive database of more than 28,000 banned terms in multiple different languages, and millions of keyword combinations which may be used.

Thousands of people have already engaged with the chatbot. In the first 30 days since the pilot project’s launch in March 2022, 173,904 search attempts potentially relating to sexual imagery of children led to the chatbot initiating conversations with users.

The IWF says the chatbot has “immense potential” to prevent people from progressing down a path which could see them accessing illegal material and, potentially, abusing children themselves as time goes on.

Stop It Now! said people admitting to themselves they may have a sexual interest in children and actively doing something to address their behaviour is a big and daunting step to take. It can take a long time to build trust and reach out for the help that is available.

Despite these barriers, the chatbot had 158 sessions during the first 30 days where users took the step of looking further into available services from Stop It Now! to work towards changing their behaviour.

“Tech companies can make a real difference to keeping children safe”

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “This chatbot has immense potential to stop the spread of this harmful material and, crucially, to reduce the demand.

“Our second-to-none knowledge of this issue has helped our tech team think outside the box in tackling the problem head on.

“In 2021, the IWF worked to remove a record-breaking 252,000 webpages containing child sexual abuse material from the internet – an increase of 64% on 2020.

“The proliferation of this imagery shows the problem is not going away. A new approach is needed, and prevention must be a key part of stopping the spread of this material, something we know only serves to revictimise children over and over again as the images are shared worldwide.

“Having the backing of End Violence is so important in allowing us to undertake this pioneering work in the field of deterrence, and it’s to Pornhub’s credit that they have stepped up to help with this project.”

Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Hundreds of people are arrested each month in the UK alone for viewing sexual images of under 18s online. It is a huge and growing problem both here and globally, and we can’t just arrest ourselves out of it. We need to intervene with people at the earliest stage to get them to stop offending, or not start in the first place.

“Our collaboration with Pornhub is vital to this effort. It shows how tech companies can make a real difference to keeping children safe by challenging those who may put them at risk. More than that, it will help us better understand the pathways into offending by those who start searching for sexual images of children.

“This chatbot will help people who attempt searches for sexual images of children to recognise that these images are illegal, that children were harmed to make them and are further harmed when people choose to view them. Viewing them also has huge consequences for those offending, including possible arrest and jail. It might feel like a big jump to get help to stop, but people can and do talk to us confidentially and we’re glad they reach out for help after using the chatbot.

“By stopping this illegal online sexual behaviour at the earliest stage, we help protect children and reduce the number of lives impacted by the creation and use of this harmful and illegal material.”

A spokesperson for Pornhub said: “Pornhub has zero tolerance for child sexual abuse material, and we are honoured to partner with leading organisations like IWF and Stop It Now! to deploy this ground-breaking technology that will help deter bad actors before they commit a crime.

“While Pornhub utilises deterrence messaging worldwide, the Chatbot serves as an additional layer of social intervention being piloted in the UK.

“It is triggered based on searches performed by users on Pornhub UK, which maintains a constantly evolving, extensive database of over 28,000 banned terms in multiple different languages, and millions of permutations of blocked keyword combinations as a result.

“To deter searches for potentially illegal content, the banned term list casts a wide net on associated words or phrases, which yield zero results and utilise messaging to deter future searches for such material.

“This partnership to pilot the chatbot follows our robust Trust and Safety policy, which includes only allowing uploads from people who have submitted government-issued ID that passes third-party verification, eliminating the ability to download content except for paid content for which we have validated ID of all performers, integrating several leading technological platforms and content moderation tools, and many more content moderation techniques, all of which have proven effective.

“We encourage other tech platforms to implement tools like the chatbot as part of a strategy of deterrence.”

DCC Ian Critchley, National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Child Protection, said: “Policing is committed to targeting the perpetrators of these offences and bringing them to justice, and the number of people being arrested for viewing child sexual abuse material is growing every year.

“This is a huge, societal problem, and while tackling offenders is important for policing, as a society, we need to focus on trying to stop it happening in the first place.

“The consequences of offending are severe, as they rightly should be, so if you are concerned about what you are doing online, you can stop your behaviour before it’s too late. We know that it is a huge step for someone to acknowledge their thoughts, and do something about their behaviour, and this chatbot can help people take that step.

“Everyone must do their part. Platforms have a moral obligation to do everything they can to prevent the hosting and viewing of this material. I am pleased that Pornhub is working to prevent and deter offending, and it is vitally important that other platforms do the same.”

The chatbot was launched in March 2022. It will run for at least a year.

Find out more

Stop It Now! UK and Ireland helpline

Online child sexual abuse deterrence campaign

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