In a brief press release earlier this month, the City of Airdrie alerted residents that there is an online platform that helps in the removal of underage explicit photos and/or videos.
"Having nude photos or video online is scary and can cause mental trauma. If someone under the age of 18 has nude, partially nude or sexually explicit images or videos that they want to be removed, they can submit a request to have it taken down," the release stated.
The Take It Down website based out of the United States in conjunction with The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), allows an individual to create a report after answering a series of questions in order to have the explicit photos removed.
According to Airdrie school resource officer Cst. Jennifer Weedmark, online platforms such as Take It Down are a crucial part of the conversation.
"These are helpful resources to teach our youth and community members there are options to help erase harmful content from the internet. This is an important piece as it also promotes discussions surrounding mental health awareness, and the importance of seeking support and help in difficult situations, as well as encouraging healing," she wrote in a statement to Discover Airdrie.
However, the website underlines that in order to create the file so as to be able to request photos to be removed from other platforms, the individual must have access to the images on their device.
Take It Down underlined that while the images must be uploaded to the website, so as to assign a unique 'hash value' or digital fingerprint to then track them on other platforms, the image or video will remain on the individual's device and will not be submitted as part of this process.
"The unique hash that was created from your image or video will be added to NCMEC’s hash list that will be available to online platforms. The information will be made available to participating online platforms who may scan their public or unencrypted services to detect, remove, and where appropriate, report those images or videos to NCMEC’s CyberTipline."
The website also states that those wishing to use the service do not have to share any personal information to create the 'hash' for the images and/or videos. Though it is an American-based platform, Take It Down assures its users that its service is open to all youth and teens under the age of 18 across the globe.
Companies working in partnership with Take It Down have agreed to use the 'hash list' to scan for images and videos on their public or unencrypted platforms. Platforms include Facebook, Instagram, OnlyFans, Pornhub, TikTok, and Yubo.
Cst. Weedmark also underlined that there is a similar project in Canada, code-named Project Arachnid.
The project was launched in 2017 by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) and has also been key in combatting child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the internet. The program crawls the open web in search of images of child sexual abuse content.
"When CSAM or harmful‑abusive content is detected, a removal request is sent to the hosting provider. Project Arachnid processes thousands of images a second and is capable of detecting content at a pace that greatly exceeds traditional methods of identifying and addressing this material," Cybertip.ca, which is Canada's National tipline for reporting online sexual exploitation of children, stated.
Over the last five years, Project Arachnid's activities have led to six million images and videos of child sexual exploitation being removed from over 1,000 electronic service providers spanning over 100 countries worldwide.
Cst. Weedmark explained that Airdrie RCMP’s School Resource Officers have been provided specified training from the RCMP’S central Youth Officer Training program to help educate youth on maintaining a safe online presence through social media and otherwise.
"We are routinely asked by schools to deliver helpful presentation material concerning online safety and bullying (sexual extorsion, inappropriate posting, the legal parameters around consent and sharing). We have also partnered up with community members who are passionate to share their past experiences on the topic and recommended strategies in avoiding conflict, as well as other specialized units including members from the Calgary Child Advocacy Center."
Airdrie RCMP has noted an alarming rise in sextortion cases over the past several years. Though statistics regarding specific ages were not available at the Municipal Policing Advisory Board, Inspector Lauren Weare, the Airdrie RCMP Detachment Commander, observed that both the victims and the suspects in sextortions have been predominantly youths.
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