Prostasia Newsletter #39—November 2021 View online
Prostasia Foundation Protecting children by upholding the rights and freedoms of all
Prostasia warns against reliance on abuse reports

No legitimate website owner wants to host unlawful sexual images of minors. Such content is illegal and harmful, and it will disgust and drive away most website visitors. 


Last year Prostasia Foundation reviewed some of the automatic tools available to assist website owners in ensuring that their websites aren't misused to host such images. However, access to these tools, and to the databases of image fingerprints (or hashes) that power them, is tightly restricted. This means that many websites, especially those hosted outside the USA, don't have an easy way to filter out unlawful images. They are reliant instead on user reports or human moderation.


Project Arachnid, a web crawler operated by the Canadian Center for Child Protection (C3P), seemed to offer a solution to this problem when it was released in 2006. Rather than requiring website owners to scan their own websites for illegal content, the Project Arachnid bot would do so in the course of crawling the Internet. It would then send an abuse notification to the website owner if any content matched images known to C3P's reporting hotline. C3P received a share of $10 million in grants in 2020 to fund the further expansion of Project Arachnid.


Unfortunately however, the irresponsible decision of C3P to extend its Project Arachnid abuse notification system to include lawful and legitimate content has rendered the system next to useless. As a result, Prostasia Foundation now warns that website owners who receive abuse notifications from can no longer be sure that the reported content is actually illegal or abusive. 


We'll explain exactly how this happened and why, but first—who is C3P anyway?

About the Canadian Center for Child Protection

On the surface, C3P is an independent nonprofit organization. Indeed, it began as a grassroots, volunteer-led organization founded under the name Child Find Manitoba by the mother of a child who had been abducted and murdered. Its United States counterpart NCMEC was founded in very similar circumstances. But both organizations quickly evolved beyond their independent roots to become closely interlinked with government.


Criminologist Steven Kohm describes C3P as “facilitating networks of policing, surveillance, and control that link public and private bodies.” It does so, however, without the mechanisms of transparency and accountability that we would normally expect from a body exercising such functions. He writes: 


C3P works out of view of the general public. Despite being given national ‘tip line’ status by Canadian Parliament in 2011, and despite receiving significant funding from several Canadian provinces and territories and Canada’s federal government, C3P remains uncoupled from the state and therefore resistant to researcher requests for information about most aspects of its operations.


Through a detailed analysis of C3P's public communications, Kohm has analyzed the tactics used by C3P to center itself as an authority on child protection in Canada. He says that these include:


  1. “Distorted and exaggerated claims” about the extent of the problem.

  2. A "focus predominantly on the role of technology in facilitating the offense, rather than addressing who offends and why.”

  3. A tendency to draw "on emotion and common myths about stranger danger to advocate for legal, social, and behavioral change.”


C3P emphasizes surveillance as a primary solution to the problem of child sexual abuse. It advises parents that they should "know your child's log-in and password" and impress upon the child that they have "no right to privacy." The organization also advocates with international policymakers against online privacy measures such as end-to-end encryption.


C3P favors censorship of a broad range of adult content. In 2019, a Canadian report to Costa Rican police resulted in the arrest of a 17-year-old girl for posting explicit artwork to her blog. C3P also spreads anti-pornography pseudoscience that compares adult content to “cocaine, alcohol, and methamphetamines.” In 2021, it resigned its membership of INHOPE, the international network of reporting hotlines, because Mindgeek, the parent company of Pornhub, had joined as a member in order to safeguard its own platform from illegal content. 

An increasingly brazen power-grab

In December 2019, C3P put forward a new framework for the removal of content online. This  would include the removal of content that is "harmful” but not illegal. As a part of this framework, it promoted the idea that trusted hotlines—notably its own—should be able to direct Internet companies to remove such content without internal or external review. “Industry must act on removal notices without subjectivity or unevenness when notified by a trusted/verified hotline,” the organization insisted.


The concept that not enough content is being reported for action, because the criteria for doing so are too loose, is somewhat baffling. In reality, far more reports of actual child abuse material are being made than authorities have the capacity to deal with. This has resulted in investigators prioritizing only the most serious cases such as penetrative abuse of prepubescent minors.


Despite this, following the release of its new framework, C3P began using its Project Arachnid bot to issue abuse reports on a broader set of lawful content that C3P considered harmful. On a close reading of these abuse reports, they no longer claim that the content reported is illegal. Instead, they say that it is "sexual, harmful, and/or abusive,” that it appears to involve “a person under the age of 18," and that it "may also satisfy legal definitions of illegal material in some countries."


Despite this careful wording, many of the website and network operators who received these notices have assumed that they continued to refer to verified illegal content as they had prior to 2020. Some may also have been misled into believing that the C3P is an authorized government actor. This misunderstanding has resulted in an increase in unjustified online censorship, which can be attributed solely to C3P's actions.

Abuse reports misused

To give just a few recent examples, in January 2021 the C3P sought to censor a whistleblower, whose website reveals that an anti-pornography activist fabricated a story about child sex trafficking. Beginning in March 2021, reverse image-search websites were targeted by the Project Arachnid bot, despite the fact that these websites do not themselves host any image content. In June, an image-hosting website complained about repeated takedown requests for a frame from the children's movie Pippi Longstocking.


Most recently in August 2021, C3P took down a longstanding art and culture blog by making a false report concerning an image taken from a 1960s postcard of an indigenous family. Although the abuse report states that “the content is harmful due to the context or location in which it is being made publicly available," the context in which this image was used could not have been more innocent. It appeared, along with other similar images, in a detailed ethnographic blog article about indigenous women and girls.


Compounding the harm done by the C3P's false report, the report was not made to the website owner, who could have taken this image down specifically. Instead it was made to an upstream network operator, which responded by blocking the server from the Internet, thereby taking down the entire website and other websites along with it, using a technique called null routing. In a recently published paper, C3P admitted using null routing against CSAM content, while hiding its broader use of this censorship technique against legitimate websites also.


Also complicit in this act of censorship was Cloudflare, the network security company, which gave up the IP address of the server, which had been shielded from public view as a security precaution. Our revelations that C3P has abused its position to unmask the details of lawful websites provides good reason for Cloudflare to review C3P's "trusted notifier" status.


Due to the goodwill that Project Arachnid had built up when it was reporting only verified child abuse images, many network operators continue to respond to notices without question. In light of its documented misuse of abuse reports to target legitimate and lawful content, this practice must now be reassessed. Going forward, website owners who receive abuse reports should avoid acting on them without independently reviewing the content that is the subject of the report, and checking with their local hotline if necessary.


Additionally, we are rescinding our previous advice that organizations that perform PhotoDNA scanning for unlawful images of minors should use the hash database. In light of the C3P's misuse of its Project Arachnid abuse reporting bot, can no longer be trusted as a source of reliable data for PhotoDNA scanning.


C3P's standards of what content is "harmful” are private, arbitrary, and influenced by its overtly sex-negative agenda. Despite the pseudo-public function that it exercises, it must not be forgotten that C3P is simply a private organization, with no accountability for its actions. As an increasing number of documented cases demonstrate, it has manifestly exploited its position to enact policies of overbroad censorship. It should no longer be regarded as a trusted actor in the child protection sector.


A conversation with Andrew Peri

Andrew Pari is America’s leading authority on the arousal response in sexualized violence and related taboo topics in the sexual assault field. He is the founder and director of Sexual Assault Awareness. And he’s also a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating sexual assault survivors.

We spoke to Andrew about his work on researching and treating clients who experience arousal during sexual assault. Click on the image above to see the video. Audio of the conversation is here. A transcript of the conversation is on our blog.



From the blog archives
Age gap relationships through the looking glass
When I was in my teens, I found myself attracted to people who were 25 or, preferably, older. As I aged, the range extended up a little and, since I…
Facebook and child-spanking fetish groups
Child-spanking fetish groups have managed to find a place on Facebook. On a platform where a bare nipple or buttock is beyond the pale, these spanking groups are not considered…
Take our annual community survey!

Last year, Prostasia's inaugural survey of our supporters revealed some interesting facts about our community—such as that it skews young and queer, and that it its most favored CSA prevention intervention is "Combatting misinformation about how child sexual abuse really happens."


How have things changed in 2021? We'd like to find out. Please click below to add your views to our 2021 community survey. It's anonymous, there are only ten questions—and they are all optional. We'll report back next month with the results!

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Everything's Going To Be Okay
Reviewed by
Meagan Ingerman

Freeform’s Everything’s Gonna Be Ok is the show you didn’t know you needed. You need to watch this show. Your kidneys and spleen need you to watch this show. Why? I mean, queer, neurodivergent, non-mongomous love, just to start with, just right off the top.

The review below includes some spoilers, so be warned!

When his father dies, 25 year old Nicholas (played by show creator, Australian comedian Josh Thomas) finds himself in charge of his two teenage half sisters and the small fortune left them. Matilda (Kayla Cromer)  is 16 when the show begins and Genevieve (Maeve Press) is 14. Nicholas has no support from other family. His mom is incredibly narcissistic and uninterested. Matilda and Genevieve’s mother appears to have died well before the story begins. 


The show explores grief and the realities of how life continues after loss. I watched this not long after suffering a loss myself. I sobbed for a lot of the first episode and had some big feelings watching the characters navigate their process of grieving. As a fellow griever, much of the mourning rang true for me.

Autism is centered in the show and all the characters who are written as autistic are played by actors who are autistic themselves. I’m not autistic and neither is the companion I watched the show with so I cannot speak from lived experience. But I see things in the stories and characters that I have been told are part of experiencing the world as an autistic person. While not autistic, I am neurodivergent and it’s refreshing to see neurodivergence represented and not treated as some kind of terrible tragedy.

I think my favorite part of the show is how openly sex and relationships are presented. Straight relationships really take a backseat to queer, neurodivergent love. The only fully straight relationship involved is between Genevieve and a couple of suitors. Her journey covers everything from adorable courting to awkward dates and toxicity.

Nicholas and his partner, Alex (Adam Faison) experience an entire relationship across the span of the show. It’s poignant, sweet, messy, and ultimately doomed. Things are complicated greatly by the fact that in the beginning, before finding out about his father’s cancer, Australian born Nicholas intends to return to Australia. The pandemic also plays a role, forcing Nicholas and Alex to shelter together, which can be a lot for a relatively new relationship.

Probably the most interesting sex and relationship arch belongs to Matilda. Sexual assault and the inability of minors—especialy minors under the influnce of alcohol— to consent to sex with those who are 18 and older is tackled in this episode. This storyline is complicated by the fact that Matilda sought sex from an 18 year old boy she had a crush on. When her sister hears about it, she brings up the issue of sexual assault, though Matilda maintains that she wanted to have sex. Nicholas finds himself in the principal's office where everyone tries to find the ethical way out.

Later Matilda tries out a relationship with her best friend of the same age, Drea. Both girls are autistic and that factors heavily into their story. It’s a blessing in that they understand each other’s needs better than non-neurodivergent people can. But they have to navigate other’s assumptions and concerns about what they can and can’t decide for themselves.

After spending some time trying, Matilda discovers that she is not sexually attracted to women but is romantically attracted to Drea. Drea for her part discovers she identifies as asexual and homoromantic. They briefly break up, but ultimately come back together with the understanding that Matilda will have sex with men but otherwise be faithful to Drea. It’s an incredibly reasonable conclusion for two 18 (by then) year olds. If you see no other episode of the show, you need to watch the episode, “California Banana Slugs” (Season 2, episode 5) where Matilda has a no strings attached hookup while everyone is home. And yes, he meets the family in a scene that’s both awkward and brilliantly done.

Watching these relationships evolve is really delightful. Even breakups put everyone involved in a better place. Unfortunately, the show was canceled after season two. But in a way, it makes it a self-contained story that, much like real life, doesn’t leave a lot of resolution but is still terribly interesting.

Double your donation

Everyone wants to end child sexual abuse—but almost nobody is questioning why mass incarceration, surveillance and censorship are failing to solve the problem. Nobody except for Prostasia Foundation, that is. Our unique and challenging mission is to stand up to the politics of fear and hate that harm minorities and infringe human rights, while promoting evidence-based, sex-positive solutions that are both more effective and more humane.


Equip us to win the war against child sexual abuse, bigotry, and unchecked government surveillance by donating generously. We need to raise $10,000 between now and November 30—and thanks to a generous supporter, your donations will be doubled!

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