“​​A world where every child can simply be a kid—where they can live connected lives without being sexually exploited or revictimized.”

This is a key message from what I call Thorn’s guiding star: the vision by which we navigate this complex and increasingly urgent issue. It’s what grounds me and the amazing Thorn team as we not only reflect on all we’ve accomplished over the last year, but consider what’s at stake in 2022.

As we enter Thorn’s 10th year of fighting child sexual abuse online, I find myself wondering what challenges will come our way in the next 10 years—as well as what we’ll build to meet those challenges.

In the new year we’ll need to lay a foundation for the next decade while continuing to accelerate the work that’s been done so far. 

Here are some of the key things I’m thinking about as we enter 2022:

1. It’s time to normalize and scale the proactive detection of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) across digital platforms.

Today’s internet wasn’t designed with child safety in mind. This allowed CSAM to proliferate across the open web, including on platforms that you and I use every day. To put the scale of the problem in perspective, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently received its 100 millionth report of online child sexual exploitation.

We won’t eliminate CSAM from the internet until every platform with an upload button is proactively detecting, removing, and reporting it.

Detecting CSAM needs to become a normal part of every technology company’s trust and safety practices, and we must continue to make those tools and processes more accessible for platforms of all shapes and sizes—just as Thorn did in 2021 when Safer became available in AWS Marketplace

2. We need to amplify the reach of educational resources and messaging to youth and their communities.

Talking about the sexual exploitation of children in any form is extremely difficult. As we know from the work of Judith Herman, the natural human reaction is to turn away from atrocity—but the more of us that commit to shedding light in these dark corners, the stronger we become.

In 2021 we saw more attention on this issue than at any other time since Thorn was founded, yet we still have a long way to go. In ‘22 we’ll continue to build upon Thorn for Parents, a first-of-its-kind digital resource for parents concerned about their kids’ safety growing up online. With content from our youth brand receiving over 180 million impressions, we’ll continue to talk directly with the kids experiencing these risks.

And everything we do in these spaces will continue to be informed by cutting-edge research and insights that center the voices of young people in our approaches.

3. We must look for opportunities at a systemic level.

I’ve been thinking lately about Thorn’s place in the digital child safety ecosystem. Our experience and humility teach us that we cannot achieve our goals alone. Our ability to eliminate CSAM from the internet requires us to think more broadly about the system in which we operate and how we are uniquely positioned to take actions that help shift the entire ecosystem. Our audacity inspires us to be the spark that moves the entire ecosystem towards our guiding star.

Over half of children worldwide say they have experienced sexual harm online. Our global systems are failing to protect children from online sexual exploitation. We need to move the ecosystem that is at the core of creating this world (tech companies, law enforcement, parents and caregivers, public apathy) from a reactive, siloed, child-isolated network to a child-centered, child-supported, globally-connected, proactive, and accountable community.

As we look at emerging spaces like livestreaming, Web3, and the metaverse, we can do so with the knowledge and perspective we’ve gained so far. We now have the chance to make child safety a foundational design element for these emerging technologies—but only if we are willing to step back and look at where the systems to protect children online are breaking down today.

In 2022 we’re doubling down on our efforts to build a safer internet for children, now and for generations to come. 

Until every child can be a kid.

The last two years have shown us that the future is always unpredictable.

While I can’t predict when the next pandemic will occur or everything 2022 will hold for us, I can tell you this: As long as there are those who would exploit technology to sexually abuse children, Thorn will be here. 

I look forward to the next year—and next decade—of Thorn’s work with humble gratitude for everyone who has contributed to this mission, from the internal team to our community of supporters to our partners working on the frontlines.

Thank you, each and every one of you, for joining me on this journey and for committing to building an internet where every child can be safe, curious, and happy. 

–Julie


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