But we are, and if you’re in Toronto this weekend you can witness the installation up close.
Cybertip.ca, operated on behalf of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, is Canada’s tipline for addressing online sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The tipline has “moved from managing 4,000 reports from the public per month to more than 160,000 via Project Arachnid.”
Over 160,000 reports a month.
“When we’re crawling we’re actually picking up texts they [offenders] are posting on forums. We’re seeing what they are saying,” explains Catherine Chabbert, an analyst at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Chabbert also manages the tipline. “We knew what was being said so we thought to use ‘lolli’ as a proxy to talk about child sexual abuse material in this installation.”
Over 10,000 lollipops cascade the installation walls and ceiling, while audio, statistics and vile comments taken from the dark web are displayed. For those unaware, ‘lolli’ is a term that is often used among online predators to describe children.
Speaking about Project Arachnid, Chabbert explains that the move is about the removal of child sexual abuse material online, which can mean videos or images. The material is identified and once those preyed on are removed from their abusive environment they still live with the impacts of knowing there are images of the abuse continuing to be distributed online. Project Arachnid’s purpose is to “move away from the investigation portion” and focus more on getting this content removed, says Chabbert. And Shield by Project Arachnid is a free API which industry can use to quickly detect known child sexual abuse images on their own service rather than waiting for notices from Project Arachnid.
“Now we are moving towards having a law enforcement API, which is essentially a tool that they can use to go in and do searches themselves,” says Chabbert.
One alarming takeaway Chabbert notes is the frequency of offenders communicating and coaching one another online to prey and take advantage of children. Another big concern is that many of these images may begin on the dark web, but they don’t just live there.
“What was frightening for us was how much material was available on the public web. Some of the material we were scraping from the dark web we were seeing connections to the open web, but just password protected or encrypted,” says Chabbert. “We’ve been moving to compiling that information and reaching out to those companies saying, ‘Hey, we just saw 1000 images on your service that is child sexual abuse material, here’s the information, what are you going to do about it?'”
Unfortunately, responses and proactive measures taken vary. Chabbert says that some services are quick to remove the content—sometimes it can take an hour for a response, less than hour, and some services have “whitelisted us so once we send a notice the material gets removed,” she says. “We have gotten into very big debates with the big technology companies in terms of removal and what actually meets the criteria or definition of child sexual abuse material. But, then there are some that don’t do anything at all.”
Another big factor that many seem to forget: posting photos of your kids online is not safe.
“A lot of people don’t even realize what they’re doing when they post photos of their children online. And that’s what we noticed with Project Arachnid. We’re dealing with child sexual abuse material, yes, but we are also seeing a whole ton of other images and material that is probably from parents that have posted such on their social media and then an offender has grabbed it and now it’s on a hardcore child pornography site. We need to balance out our awareness not just about the issue but with real solutions on what you should be doing,” she says.
“This is about being recorded, and we are dealing typically with very, very young children. This is a significant human behaviour problem,” adds Lianna McDonald, executive director at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. “The other thing is that technology has absolutely facilitated this. So this is a big problem. The ability to share this type of material has never been easier.”
McDonald was behind the push for this installation. She told us that the Centre is in talks with organizations and people around the world to make these type of installations more prevalent. She hopes more of this awareness through art is shown across Canada as well.
McDonald also echoed Chabbert in regards to the “coaching” that offenders do.
“Now with the monitoring and tools we have we are seeing the ways in which the offenders connect and coach each other online, exchanging information and educating each other on how to groom these children, how to facilitate children’s pictures that have been taken in family places that someone has stolen and put on the dark web. Then offenders begin commenting,” explains McDonald.
McDonald says people need to start thinking about what they are sharing about their children. “It’s about the privacy of the child. These children have no say in their life being recorded and grow up without really giving their consent. And it’s really about public education, which is a conversation that needs to be had.”
She also advises parents to have a conversation with their children about this invasion, as hard as it may be. There are going to be emerging risks and children need to be protected.
“It’s a hard, heavy topic, but we are at a point where we need to stop sweeping this under the rug,” says Chabbert. “And if it comes to a point where it is about naming and shaming these predators then so be it.”
The installation, located at Stackt Market (28 Bathurst St.) in Toronto, will be open to the public (18+) from July 12 – 14 from 12 p.m. – 7 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to raise awareness of the issue using #LollipopTakedown.
Photos via The Canadian Press
Lead photo: KK
Last photo features Lianna McDonald (left) and Signy Arnason (right) from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
“The concerning thing for us when it comes to Project Arachnid is that we also have cases where the child is being offended against by someone they know. And we’re also seeing a lot of images and videos of children who are connecting with offenders online, so it’s more like luring and these children probably don’t even know that there are images or videos of them being circulated online. It’s not until a police investigation happens, and then you have police showing up at your doorstep saying they found images of video of you kid. The impact of that is big.” – Catherine Chabbert
Also key to note: much of the material of even identified victims doesn’t necessarily meet the criminal definition of child pornography.
More information can be found here.