In October 2020, Twitter released a substantially revamped version of its terms of service on child exploitation. Although most of the changes simply clarify its existing ban on content that features or promotes child sexual exploitation, there is one specific change that goes beyond this, creating a new and separate policy violation for “promoting or normalizing sexual attraction to minors as a form of identity or sexual orientation.” On the face of it, this unusually specific policy is a callback to a popular “normalization of pedophilia” trope used by self-styled “pedo-hunter” activists to attack progressive causes. But Twitter’s adoption of this pseudo-scientific concept does more than provide new ammunition for vigilantes; it could also put the safety of real children at risk. To explain why, and to trace how we got to this point, let’s take a step back into history.
Propaganda and conspiracy
Anyone who grew up around the mid 20th century remembers learning about the propaganda put out by the Communist governments of the day. Our side, by contrast, had enough freedom to get the truth out, at least to the cool people who were ready for it. If the mainstream press wasn’t free enough for you – the press that couldn’t stand to print the word ‘gay’ for decades– there was at least the alternative press. And even though most vendors drew the line at the gay press, there was always someone, somewhere who would sell them paper so they could carry on putting out their shocking ideas. Freedom of speech was a happening thing, baby.
Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.-John Milton, Areopagitica
Lately, our rust-belt hemisphere has reached the point where we have seen the emergence of strangely medieval lie-fests as election tools in western democracies. The cultural assumption that “we’re more civilized than that and we would never go there” has been eroded by time and desperation. The most notable example of such a lie-fest is the emergence of a series of conspiracy dramas featuring imaginary baby-blood-drinking pedophile elitists lurking beneath Washington and in the Hollywood hills. Fact-finding journalists who thought they could debunk these obviously self-serving grotesqueries found themselves overwhelmed by fanatics and bots on social media, and more or less threatened at home, vulnerable to being accused of belonging to the horrifying pedemonology themselves.
As Twitter, Facebook and so on cracked down on this abuse, however, they faced a dilemma in one area. A very broad and hardened link had been forged between the fake-pedophile conspiracy-mongers and a consortium of worried citizens who thought that any loosening up on the vilification of ‘pedophilia’ might just crack open the door to the real bogeyman’s pointed hooves. After all, hadn’t a rise of gullible slackness allowed the homosexuals to turn the world upside-down, demanding their wedding cakes from Christian bakers, and hadn’t good intentions opened the doors to new-age Saracens who’d immediately attacked New York from the air like bearded Godzillas?
Those were the deep-states of mind among conservatives, at least; there was also a liberal-left version that was equally worried that the now holy LGBT movement and its allies might be re-framed by milder degenerates secretly tacking the grosser degenerates onto the tail end of their agenda. The social media moguls had to throw all these pedophilia worriers a bone of some kind. Other developments, however, had made that difficult to do.
More than two sides
One might imagine that if there were two sides to any debate about pedophilia, one of the rival sides would be supporting sexual-type relations between adults and children, and the other would be standing in horrified opposition. This idea is very convenient to our prized ideals of western democracy, in that we know we can bring forth truthful information from people who suffered as children from desperately unwanted sexual exploitation, or who belatedly realized their naïve compliance was a grave psychological compromise. There is thus great expectation that the advocates of reason and evidence could handily win out in a discussion against proponents of what some have termed ‘pedosex.’
Social media based in the US, UK and Europe, in any case, weren’t compelled to be as cautious about speech protection as governments, and they mostly explicitly banned supporters of pedosex. So much for pedophilia. The policy hands could be dusted off; apart from the matter of perennially weeding out the short-lived accounts of illegal porn posters, the scary topic of pedophilia was toast.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.― United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
What the administrators didn’t reckon on, though, was that there was a large number of pedophiles who were also opposed to ‘pedophilia’ in the popular sense, that is, to pedosex, and to child sexual exploitation in general. They were stuck with their basic psychosexual imprint just as heterosexuals and gays were, but they rejected bringing it to its hypothetical culmination. A vigorous debate could, in fact, take place between anti-abuse pedophiles and internetters frantic about the very existence of such people.
To make the matter more excruciating for the trend-managers, psychological and other health professionals whose responsibilities included reducing child abuse were clearly excited about cooperating with anti-pedosex pedophiles and other like-minded ‘MAPs’ (MAP = minor-attracted person = pedophile in the scientific sense, and/or hebephile and/or ephebophile). Shortly after the pseudonymous Nick Devin and Ethan Edwards set up their own Virtuous Pedophiles website in 2012, some of the most prominent academic researchers on pedophilia, including Toronto’s James Cantor, Berlin’s Klaus Beier, and Nottingham’s Belinda Winder and Craig Harper, expressed their support of the intra-community effort among MAPs to prevent child abuse. Cantor told Salon Magazine in 2012:
It is hard to imagine someone who would feel more isolated than someone who recognizes he is sexually interested in children. In my experience, it is in those phases of greatest desperation that a pedophile is most likely to do something desperate, risking harm to a child … Mutual support among people who share the same daily battle with their own desires can go a long way in addressing the extreme isolation, serving as a potential pressure valve, adding layer of protection, helping pedophiles to keep their behaviors under control.
Cantor and others became particularly friendly with a statesmanlike pseudonymous Virped member who called himself Enderphile. This individual helped to organize sample populations for research studies, and also wrote many supportive blog pieces making it clear that there was a viable alternative for pedophiles who wanted mutual support in living fully ethical lives. His efforts even inspired literature: a Canadian author and English educator called Sheila van den Heuvel-Collins produced a radiant book of short fictional episodes about the everyday lives of non-offending, law-abiding pedophiles. Writing about this population was a historic first.
Enderphile’s attempts from 2015 onward to move his anti-abuse socialization efforts onto Twitter, where Cantor and the other researchers were already well established, produced considerable backlash. The thought of any pedophile saying anything on social media, even if it was to oppose child abuse, raised great alarm in certain circles. One trendily scurrilous author, Ian Miles Cheong, even went so far as to produce a blatantly falsified article in December 2017 claiming that Enderphile, who was known to be a European Spanish speaker, was the same person as an already imprisoned French-Canadian sex offender. Just as Enderphile was engaged in proving, by posting YouTubes from a Los Angeles business trip, that he was by no means in prison, Twitter suspended his account. Several other anti-pedosex, law-abiding MAPs on Twitter also had their accounts axed in the same purge.
Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.St. Catherine of Siena
Prostasia Foundation co-founder Jeremy Malcolm, then a free speech activist, spoke to a group of the anti-abuse experts and came out with a campaign to convince Twitter that it had made an error. In a January 2018 blog piece, he wrote:
Twitter’s suspension of the accounts of non-offending pedophiles last month flew under the radar for most Internet activists and free speech advocates. Although non-offending pedophiles strongly oppose child abuse imagery and adult-child sex, activists were no more inclined to defend them against Twitter’s actions than they were to defend the Nazis and alt-right hate groups whose accounts Twitter also purged.
But there’s one group that does stand against Twitter’s suspension of the accounts of these prominent online pedophiles —and it’s not who you might expect. It’s child protection workers, who together with more than twenty international clinical and forensic psychologists, sexologists, sociologists and other experts, this week sent an open letter to Twitter stating:
“In our professional opinions, terminating the accounts of non-offending, anti-contact MAPs [Minor-Attracted Persons] is likely to result in the opposite effect of that which Twitter may expect or intend. Rather than reducing the incidence of child sexual abuse, if anything it increases the risk that some pedophiles will be unable to obtain the peer or professional support that they may need in order to avoid offending behavior. It is also likely to increase the stigma and isolation associated with pedophilia and thereby increase the likelihood of some MAPs acting on their sexual feelings.”
With the help of some further discussions with Twitter staff, an understanding was reached that, while offering no reinstatement to the embarrassingly well-known Enderphile, allowed the great majority of ‘anti-contact’ MAPs to retain their accounts and expound their anti-abuse viewpoints. The collaboration between these people and their professional supporters continued despite a great variety of disruption attempts. Eventually, in 2019, Twitter produced a policy statement that seemed to definitively settle the matter:
Discussions related to child sexual exploitation as a phenomenon or attraction to minors are permitted, provided they don’t promote or glorify child sexual exploitation in any way.
Since the anti-contact MAPs had no intention of “promoting or glorifying child sexual exploitation,” this appeared to be win-win situation. True, Twitter was then obliged to deal with a constant hail of complaints by people outraged by the appearance of even the most upright members of a group they had chosen to distrust en masse. But since every contemporarily despised minority in history is beset by pathological negators of good will who insist that all of them must be hostile and manipulative, Twitter had clearly positioned itself on the side of the just by not yielding to “first, they came for the anti-contact pedophiles.”
At least, that was until its October 2020 policy revision. Although Twitter does still allow “conversations about help-seeking behavior of individuals who may struggle with an attraction to minors,” its decision that framing this attraction as a “form of identity or orientation” lies beyond the pale is puzzling. Inconvenient as it is for Twitter, many sex researchers and mental health practitioners do recognize minor attraction to be “a form of identity or sexual orientation” for their clients or research subjects. This doesn’t mean that they accept that this attraction is ever valid to enact in sexual acts, or to palliate with photos, let alone that it should ever become something to be treated as a brand or a trend. But it does mean that the way that scientists approach the problem is different to the way that vigilante activists do: they recognize that for a person who experiences attraction to minors, fighting that attraction is likely to be a lost cause. Accepting it as an unavoidable aspect of their sexuality, and focusing on managing its effects, is a more productive way for professionals to help people with minor attraction to lead non-offending lives.
An unhappy Medium
Returning to 2018, campaigners who opposed this expert/ACMAP (anti-contact MAP) cooperation were looking for a softer spot to attack after Twitter’s initial resistance, and tried Medium.com, the website hosting Enderphile’s blogs. By this time, over 30 articles had accumulated, some written by Enderphile’s approved anti-contact guest posters, all grouped under the title ‘Pedophiles About Pedophilia.’ A campaigner co-opting the name of a Justice Department operation, ‘Project Safe Childhood’ – in reality, Michelle Jurman, the combative Florida-based partner of an Anonymous movement hacker – launched a campaign of deliberate falsehood in the direction of Medium in the summer of 2018. She tweeted, for example, on July 16, “Why does this company allow these pro pedophile (sic) to post these detailed articles outlining how to groom and molest children?” She then gave out Medium’s postal address as well as some Twitter @’s operated by the site. Though the description of Enderphile’s articles accused them of saying exactly the opposite of what they actually said, the website abruptly suspended the entire account, along with the guest posts, on August 20.
The email Enderphile received to explain this breach soft-pedalled it, but clearly showed that the writer was aware of the experts’ statements that such publications might help any wavering pedophiles to affirm their resolve against any sexual actions involving minors.
We are writing to notify you that your Medium.com account has been suspended as a violation of our Rules.
(Link to a rule stating, “We do not allow the posting of anything promoting the sexual or violent exploitation of children.”)
Our rules prohibit material which may potentially promote or increase the risk of exploitation of minors.
If you are struggling with these issues, we urge you to reach out to https://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/how-can-i-find-confidential-help. They are trained professionals who are ready to talk and help…
Medium Trust & Safety
The fourth paragraph essentially said, “Anyone who is looking for support in not abusing children to whom they may be attracted: take your needs somewhere other than our website.” This classic ‘not in my backyard’ theme was taken up by many later campaigners militating about other websites where ACMAPs posted abuse prevention content.
Medium’s approach might, in fact, be interpreted to fit an archaic cultural pattern of handling perceived sexual problems, ranging from adultery to abortion to homosexuality, by attempting to completely eliminate all published communication about them. In that 19th-century cultural management framework, even publishing support for anti-contact viewpoints among pedophiles would dangerously raise the topic, which, in turn, would threaten to rouse sexual perversion from an imaginary dormant state. Underlying such stratagems is the belief that sexual dispositions are somehow fashion-driven and communicable, and can be made to go away by having no one mention them. This ideology is well remembered by gay/lesbian liberationists who were accused for decades of ‘promoting homosexuality,’ and it has little if any mainstream cultural support.
I suspect that Medium had simply calculated that the potential publicity headache involved in hosting anti-abuse pedophiles was a problem for the bottom line, even if the articles involved were doing heroic service. They therefore chose an opportune falsehood to get rid of the problem. There was no harm, at the same time, in deploying some deflection tactics that reverberated Victorian thought-suppression ideas for the satisfaction of far-right evangelicals and other old-style sexual purity fanatics. ‘Best to get them off our backs,’ may have been a rational calculation.
Discord in the support community
Shortly before the Medium silencing occurred, a very similar strategy had been evolved, perhaps independently, by the popular chat network Discord. Another of Enderphile’s community responsibility efforts was brought down when the chat network deleted his discussion server as well as all associated accounts. The very active MAP Support Chat (MSC) channel had been his outreach mainly to younger MAPs who were often gamers and who, at least in some cases, were less likely to read thoughtful blog pieces than were members of the older crowd. MSC’s very tight moderation and rules excluding sexual content are wittily documented in some of the above-mentioned short stories by Sheila van den Heuvel-Collins.
Discord’s “La Croc” (apparently an internet pseudonym) delivered Enderphile a curt note stating, “Based on the results of our investigation, this (cancellation) is a permanent action and we will not be reinstating the account/server. Discord is not a medical or psychological platform for users who sexualize minors.” Again, the message was attributed to a “Trust & Safety Team.” And again, it tacitly acknowledged that the server was known to be performing a service that medical professionals approved of, but told the operators to f— off nonetheless. Not in my electronic back yard.
Without freedom of speech, there is no modern world, just a barbaric one– Ai Weiwei
As with the Medium brush-off, the Discord brush-off contained an explicit lie that was couched in quasi-Victorian form. The accusation that pedophiles “sexualize minors” goes far beyond saying that they experience an attraction to minors, since the suffix “-ize” is only added to neologistic words to describe deliberate activities. If you discover in growing up that you are left-handed, you haven’t ‘sinistralized writing;’ if you find you are dyslexic, you haven’t ‘dyslexicized language.’ Similarly, science, by overwhelming consensus, recognizes that pedophiles have not ‘sexualized children’ through some mysterious process equivalent to chosen action. By using such phrasing, the Discord Team was again explicitly playing to the 19th century notion that deviants choose their sexual orientations. In this case, though, they had cleverly used a term that had some quasi-progressive currency among so-called TERFs, a subgroup of self-described ‘radical feminists’ who were campaigning against ACMAP speech, while at the same time opposing transwomen and similarly dismissing their claims of being intrinsically female as a trendy exploitative choice.
These decisions by the massive Medium and Discord sites did have some trend impact. Scrappy internet campaigners had already set the tone for how to oppose ACMAPs – since nothing legitimate could be found, lies would have to be deployed. Enderphile, as we saw, was re-identified preposterously with a jailed offender who had no internet access. The frequently interviewed ACMAP spokesman Todd Nickerson was accused of committing a sexual offense with a young girl. The experts such as James Cantor were relentlessly accused of being hack academics, disgraced pseudo-scientists and ‘pedophilia sympathizers.’
Medium and Discord had subtly got the message from these trolling pathfinders. To remove any potential discomfort by being seen to support non-offending pedophiles, lie about them. It was the only way to make them go away.
Lie about them, and don’t give them a platform to respond. Who would value a sticky proposition like freedom of speech for people controversially proposing to – omigosh – obey the law?
Reddit joins in
The template these cowardly websites have set in their pandering to scattered, noisy fanatics has been imitated strenuously by others. Scandinavian teenager ‘PedoViking’ established a Reddit account and was winning much approval by setting forth the ACMAP line that children should never be sexually exploited. Abruptly, after many months of mostly popular posting, he received the message “Your account has been suspended from Reddit for sexual or suggestive content involving minors. The suspension is permanent. Violating content: (post linked). Be sure to read up on the Reddit content policy to be sure you understand the rules for participating on Reddit.”
What was this horribly violating content that caused the suspension? It was Viking’s response to an allegation from a non-pedophile poster that pedophiles were hoping for legal changes so that they could have sex with children.
His response said, “I am not joking. I am a pedophile. Though I am against sexually molesting children, I’d never want to actually have sex with a child, because children can’t consent.”
If your child were secretly a pedophile, wouldn’t you want them to see that another pedophile had said this? Reddit, however, evidently prefers the old silence and secrecy environment that has led to most if not all of the world’s cases of child abuse.
And PedoViking’s experience wasn’t a one-off. A couple of years later, another MAP using the sobriquet ‘Miami Autumn’ attempted to organize a forum on Reddit (a subreddit) to put across the message that there were many pedophiles who opposed child abuse and wanted others to do the same. After a few weeks, he got the mendacious message, “your account has been permanently suspended for minor sexualization.” The offending post was a link to a short article summarizing the research experts’ basic information on pedophilia. ‘Miami Autumn’ works in the sciences and is a competent interpreter of technical literature.
The Yahoo-owned Tumblr website, once determined to be 22% pornographic in content, notoriously panicked about sexual content in 2018. The most famous event of this corporate conniption is summarized in its Wikipedia article:
On December 3, 2018, Tumblr announced that effective December 17, all images and videos depicting sex acts, and real-life images and videos depicting human genitalia or “female-presenting” nipples, would be banned from the service.
Prior to that massive closet cleanup, the site’s administrators had been arbitrarily closing ACMAP-operated blogs for several months. They hit peak panic, though, in late August, when they closed the pages operated by Aleska Kolja, a mental health professional who describes herself as a “psychiatrist in process” and an anti-contact MAP ally. They sent her a note falsely accusing her of distributing child pornography. In reality, her blog showed professional information supportive of the non-offending MAP initiatives. The Tumblr note reads:
We’ve terminated your Tumblr account. As per the policies you agreed to when creating a Tumblr account, we do not allow inappropriate content involving minors… Please note that possession and distribution of child pornography is not only a violation of Tumblr’s policies, but it is also a very serious crime, and convicted offenders may have very severe penalties, including fines and incarceration. (signed) Tumblr Trust & Safety.
Needless to say, nothing on Kolja’s page had borne the slightest resemblance to pornography, child-related or otherwise. Someone on the Tumblr Trust, Safety and Random Defamation team had just decided to click the button to include the “child pornography” boilerplate text on their message to the unwanted psychiatric worker. Lies are the best remedy for unwanted content, no matter how authoritative the source of that content is. The damage was summarized by Kolja as follows:
The effect is clear; this community is being quietly eliminated from Tumblr, with the result being a lack of resources for MAPs seeking help and also the loss of a useful tool to spread awareness and anti-contact ideas, together with information about therapy for MAPs and CSA prevention…. An entire community at the “ground zero” of child sexual abuse prevention is being censored, and it’s children who will ultimately suffer the most.
Meanwhile, as the coalition of tinfoil MAGA and TERF online campaigners continued their efforts to lie the ACMAP initiative off the air, Twitter seemed to stand firm. In 2020, however, it began to buckle as YouTube influencers like June Lapine (Shoe0nHead) and Blaire White incited thousands of members of their mostly teenaged audience to attack the ACMAP movement with the falsehood that it was a plot to co-opt and embarrass the LGBT movement. A few newspapers like the Telegraph also got into the false propaganda conga line with articles misrepresenting the ACMAP content as a cover for ‘normalization of pedophilia.’ Long time ACMAP Twitter accounts like that of Dutch activist Ben Kirssen were abruptly suspended after years of operation entirely within the rules of the site. These steps, viewed in retrospect, were direct precursors of the October 2020 policy revision.
The anti-contact MAP campaign is based in human good will and conscience, and for it to be met repeatedly with a stone wall of lies and defamation, extending even to the professionals involved, is discouraging for anyone supporting any kind of social sanity. As much of the US flirts with the power-worship that precedes dictatorship, and excites itself with the strength of the Big Lie technique, good will and sincerity can easily be cast aside as too weak to take seriously. Granted that anything that could make this divisive topic disappear from Twitter might seem like a good idea to the beleaguered platform at this point. But when platform decisions directly impact professionals and the help-seeking users they serve, placing the demands of an angry mob above the needs of those communities is a reckless move at best. The whole effect among MAPs will be to disempower the community-minded people and return social prominence to the isolated, self-serving potential offenders, who will see no one in the adult world they can identify with. As Aleska Kolja said, “it’s children who will suffer the most.”
This is the kind of situation the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech was designed to prevent – the mob shout-down of realities that actually hold the remedy for social problems. Perhaps it’s been too long since the Berlin Wall fell, and too many people haven’t seen the complete failure of blaring, menacing dirty-trickery in constructing viable societies. If goodwill can’t be ‘normalized,’ at least enough so that its case can be fairly heard, we will never have a ‘normal’ we can live with. If it’s going to be a case of “first, they came for the anti-contact pedophiles,” then, as strange as it may seem, all is truly lost.