2020 has been a year unlike any other—and chances are, unlike any year we’ll see for some time to come (fingers crossed).
I’m not going to list all the things 2020 is already known for—you’ve heard plenty about those already. Instead, I’m thinking about what this year meant for Thorn. Even for an organization accustomed to adversity, this year pushed us.
But in that adversity, we found many moments to celebrate. Here are some of the great things that happened in 2020—the things that Thorn is grateful for as an organization, as people, and as digital defenders of children.
Years from now, let’s remember these moments when we think about 2020:
Safer comes to market
In CEO Julie Cordua’s TED Talk, she talked about a product, in beta, that would provide a digital alarm bell anytime a new piece of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) hit the open web.
This year, we took a major step forward in achieving that goal when Safer, built by Thorn, was officially launched out of beta. Coming at a critical moment for the tech industry in the fight against CSAM, Safer has added a robust set of features with plans to add much more.
Safer has already helped to identify, remove, and report over 130,000 CSAM files from the open web, nearly 70,000 of those in 2020.
Thorn releases newest research, highlighting youth experiences with SG-CSAM
Thorn’s research is centered in the question: How do we identify the harms that occur at the intersection of child sexual abuse and technology, and how can we work to prevent, combat and eliminate them?
This year we released our newest research, highlighting how youth experience the sharing of self-generated intimate imagery among their peers. This content, where there is no obvious abuser in the image, is referred to as self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM).
This research provides insight to help fill in a critical knowledge gap. Read more here.
Thorn goes live on Twitch
Like a lot of people starting to learn more about this up and coming streaming platform, I didn’t understand Twitch before 2020.
But as a platform where many of the kids that we seek to defend frequently spend time, and one where more and more nonprofits are finding a receptive audience, we simply had to check it out. Plus, we knew there was a great opportunity to showcase the incredible and diverse talents of our staff, beyond the amazing products they build. So we spent over 13 hours gaming, playing music, eating food, and celebrating the safety of childhood live on Twitch for Giving Tuesday 2020.
Ashton Kutcher, Thorn’s co-founder, and Mila Kunis even swung by for a round of Among Us!
BTS tops the charts
Korean pop sensation BTS recently became the first Korean act to occupy both the no. 1 and no. 2 spots on the Billboard Hot 100. I mean, we could leave it at that, but we have more than just their amazing tunes that are giving us good vibes and good memories in 2020.
Earlier this year BTS fans, known as the BTS Army, caught on to Thorn after appearing alongside Ashton Kutcher on The Late Late Show With James Corden — and the army showed up, raising nearly $10,000 for Thorn in less than two days. Read more about it in our birthday blog.
We worked remotely, together…
As a fully distributed organization, Thorn was well equipped when the most significant pandemic in over a century shut down offices across the country. And while we were used to getting things done remotely, we were also used to traveling to see each other for important meetings and getting together in person as a full team at least twice a year.
COVID changed all of that.
But we pivoted. Early in the pandemic, our People Operations team did an amazing job of turning our team event virtual basically overnight, and ensuring that Thorn employees continued to feel connected, safe, and invested in their work.
…and boy do we appreciate educators
A lot of Thorn staff have kids at home, ranging from infants to high schoolers. With school shutdowns due to COVID we were suddenly all thrust into being part-time educators.
We banded together and were able to share our experiences, and even though we’ve had different experiences working from multiple states and with multiple ages, we know one thing for sure: we are extremely grateful for all of the educators out there.
Hard conversations were brought into the light
Talking about child sexual exploitation is really tough. But this year, we saw more people willing to have those tough conversations, as our online audiences grew (by 100% on Instagram alone—thank you!) and mainstream media covered some of the most urgent issues at the intersection of child sexual abuse and technology.
Continuing to learn, continuing to be a voice that’s willing to have those difficult conversations, helps us all to be the best advocates for vulnerable children that we can be.
Pet adoptions are way up
One positive outcome of a global pandemic is that pet adoptions have soared. Our furry friends have really helped to fill our human need for connection, and here at Thorn we have a particular soft spot for these little guys. With a slew of new four-legged members of the Thorn family, we have an entire Slack channel dedicated to sharing those moments when we get hit with so much “awwwww!” that our heads just might explode.
EVAC invests $10 million in ending child sexual abuse
In October End Violence Against Children (EVAC) announced an investment round of $10 million in keeping children safe online. Investments like this from organizations like EVAC help to ensure that the momentum the digital child safety ecosystem has built will not only continue, but accelerate until every child can simply be a kid.
Look good and improve the world at the same time
For most of us, 2020 was the first year that we started wearing face masks on an everyday basis. But in this strange new world, we found creativity and even helped to support those in need. Thanks to those who purchased #DefendHappiness masks, we even made a Buzzfeed list of 50 gifts to buy that will improve the world.
Chris Nikic completing an Ironman triathlon inspired us
This November was meant to be the first time Thorn had a dedicated team running in the New York City Marathon. When it was cancelled, many of us were left defeated.
But this year, we were inspired by the amazing feats and incredible firsts being completed around the world.The story of Chris Nikic, who was the first athlete with down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon, has inspired and motivated us all.. For those counting, that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a casual 26.2-marathon run to close it out.
We’ve all had to up our resilience in 2020, and Chris’ determination reminds us that we can’t ever stop fighting for the children we serve.
Julie Cordua speaks at Harvard Belfer Center
Thorn was honored this year to be a finalist for the first ever Tech Spotlight from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. CEO Julie Cordua joined the other finalists in an engaging roundtable discussion around the intersection of technology and public good. You can watch the full video and learn more here.
Reaching millions of teens with digital resources
UNICEF estimates that close to 1.6 billion (yes, with a ‘b’) children were impacted globally by COVID school shutdowns. With kids suddenly spending much more time online, Thorn’s Youth and Communities team sprung into action.
We launched a social media campaign to get important resources in front of kids who were spending more time online and may be encountering risky situations. The campaign reached over 4.7 million teens on Instagram and Facebook with messaging that was also viewed over 83 million times on YouTube — and hundreds of thousands clicked through to access digital help resources.
While we’re humbled that our messaging reached so many, we also know there’s much more work to be done in 2021 and beyond to ensure youth have the resources they need in an increasingly digital world. We are excited to continue to get resources in front of kids when they need them.
Developing a machine learning CSAM classifier
Identifying unknown CSAM – content that has not been previously found and reported to NCMEC (or another designated national clearinghouse) – is a challenge every platform faces, and it requires different technology than detecting known CSAM. New CSAM could represent a child in need of urgent support.
This year, Safer deployed a machine learning CSAM Classifier, for the first time helping to detect both known and unknown CSAM on digital platforms that host user generated content. Our latest tests of the most recent version of the CSAM Classifier report 99% accuracy.. In other words, if the CSAM Classifier identifies 100 files as CSAM, 99 of those files are truly CSAM.
Music kept us connected
If you’re like me, you hit Spotify’s 10,000 song library limit pretty quickly (and you also still mourn Rdio as the best music-streaming service of all time, but that’s a topic for another time and place).
But this year I personally was quite excited when Spotify finally lifted that limit, and there were more of us at Thorn celebrating as well. That’s because one of the ways we connect is using an app called JQBX, where we can join a group listening session, share music, and have a little lighthearted conversation in the process. With lots of music fans, and as a distributed team, it’s one of our favorite ways to stay connected.
Being reminded that technology can be a force for good
Apps like JQBX reminded us this year that technology can be a force for good. During this pandemic we’ve found ways to stay connected that we would have never thought of before, whether through more casual setups, virtual gatherings, making each other laugh over Slack, or a number of other, smaller ways that we stay connected and support one another through technology.
It reminds us that technology is neither good nor bad inherently, but we choose to use it for good.
We finally binged all those shows we’ve been wanting to watch
Hey, sometimes we all need an escape, and with so many good shows out there it’s been tough to find the time to watch them all. 2020 brought us the opportunity to finally sit down and discover some great TV, and we enjoyed sharing our favorites and discovering new shows to watch together.
Gratitude for all front line workers
2020 has reminded us of the important sacrifice workers on the front lines make every day. From healthcare workers to first responders to essential workers, we are filled with gratitude for their dedication and perseverance to keep us safe and healthy.
And we were humbled this year to watch so many working on the front lines of defending children from sexual abuse as they continued their work in the midst of COVID. Thank you to our partners and the NGOs who continue to fight for these kids under extraordinary circumstances.
Record support from YOU, our community and donors, to end child sexual abuse online
More people gave to Thorn this year — and during a pandemic no less — than ever before. In spite of everything 2020 has thrown at our community, they have stood up to stick by Thorn, and to stick by the children we serve. Thank you.
The importance of celebrating progress
The weight of this issue is never lost on Team Thorn, and in 2020 sometimes things felt even heavier.
This year reminded us that celebrating the wins and sharing joy – and sometimes, a really good GIF – are critical to keeping our spirits high and giving us the energy to keep going.