At some point in the early morning hours of October 17, 2011 “Shes 14” and “Sketchers” (WARNING: Highly Offensive) began to trend on twitter and I explored it as I do many trends. Shortly I found out that the hullabaloo was over a young 14 year old African-American girl from
Memphis, TN Baltimore, MD who had been videotaped performing oral sex on a male at what looked like a school. Apparently whoever posted the video posted the girl’s name as well–Amber Cole. I found the #AmberCole hashtag (WARNING: Highly Offensive) and began to follow it. It became evident rather quickly that this video was real and was being passed around on twitter. Amber Cole may have even created her own account in response to the video being posted. Her account is @DaRealAmberCole.
If this isn’t a very elaborate hoax (and I don’t believe it is, judging by her twitter account), this will be all over the news later today or tomorrow.
I was certainly offended by the crass level of humor being tweeted about this poor girl, but it is Twitter after all, and that’s par for the course. It’s still a free country and people can talk. What they can’t do is distribute child pornography, which is what people were doing every single time they posted the link to the video (again, assuming it really is a 14 year old girl). They were so blase about it. Here’s a 14 year old giving head! As if it were perfectly normal and it hadn’t occurred to them that it might be illegal, let alone immoral. Even if the girl isn’t 14, they THOUGHT they were passing around a video of a 14 year old girl performing a sex act. That’s…well, I don’t know that there’s a word for that kind of nonchalant arrogance and disregard for the personhood of a child.
Anyway, I got pretty fired up. Regular readers know how much women’s issues mean to me, and sexual exploitation of children is certainly part of that. But the #AmberCole hashtag was streaming so fast and I had no hope of having enough followers online at the time (or offline, ftr; I don’t have a great deal of them hint, hint) to assist me in tweeting against the tide, or retweeting my pleas for people to be aware that it was illegal and to stop. A lot of people were expressing concern, especially about cyberbullying and suicide, but no one was doing anything to protect the girl from more people seeing this video. So I decided to take action. Here’s what I did.
I scanned the #AmberCole hashtag for two hours just watching for people posting the video. Then I copied and pasted their twitter handles into a word document so I could keep track. I would then reply to their tweet with the following message:
I thought it was a pretty futile effort at first, but at least I figured law enforcement could contact them and put fear into them later (I hoped they would take some action anyway). And there would be a steady stream of my tweets in the stream of #AmberCole tweets coming down the line to remind people, get them to think. About 40, in fact, after all was said and done. And I’d collected some 47 names. I immediately went to report both the link and the tweeters at NCMEC’s Cyber Tipline. I probably should have reported the link first, before my twitter campaign, but I didn’t think of it. After I filed my report, I went back for screengrabs. And that’s when things got really interesting.
Of the 47 people I had personally seen tweeting the link to the video, only 16 still had it up. 16! That’s 31 eliminations, 31 less chances for this to be out there forever, ruining this girl’s life. That’s the work of one person making a small difference. And I do feel really good about it. I wish more people had tried.
In the end, this young girl’s life will be forever changed by this experience. Already her (thankfully common) name is being used as a euphemism, and of course there are the kids she will have to continue to grow up with, and the many boys and men who will use this to prey on her further. I took the time to check out her twitter stream and some of the stuff she had posted there. She appears to live with her grandmother and they live in poverty, judging by the background in her pics. I have little hope she and her family can just pack up and escape the immediate repercussion of all this. Anyway, I’ll leave you with a screenshot of my final tweet of the night.
Update: Since posting this I have found the e-mail address to report child pornography on Twitter. It’s email@example.com if you want to e-mail them, because the video is still being passed around. If you see someone posting the link, you should definitely e-mail the username to firstname.lastname@example.org. Try for a screengrab if you can. I have also found at least two tumblr accounts (no links for obvious reasons) that have posted the video and have reported them to email@example.com because that’s the only e-mail contact I could find at Tumblr. If someone has better contact info, post it in comments. In the meantime, if you have the time, you might e-mail them as well.
Update2: I’ve decided I’m not stopping until this video is off Twitter. I’ve also contacted Sketchers to make sure they know that their brand is being associated with child porn. I don’t know if my one message will get through, though, so you might consider contacting them yourself. Here’s the link. I know you’re reading. I can see the blog stats shoot through the roof. Will you stand idly by while this happens? While more and more people victimize this young lady?
Update 3: Found another copy of the video on a photobucket account and have report it here. I asked for a comment this time.
I could really use some help here, folks. I’m tracking #AmberCole and #Sketchers for people posting the video and then replying to them with this message:
Please remove the #AmberCole child porn video from your timeline or I will have to report you. #Sketchers Shes 14
But so far this is a one-woman crusade to stop the distribution of a child porn video that trending worldwide on twitter and virally finding its way onto myriad other sites, I can’t catch it all. Does anyone care about child pornography anymore? Or is it the girl’s race or economic status that is stopping you from acting? Gave head when you were 14? Got head? Well, you certainly didn’t sign on for someone to videotape it and post it to the internet with your name, for goodness sakes!
If you want to help, feel free to adopt my stategy of politely asking the user to take it down. This will leave a trail of names on your account that Twitter can then trace to remove. Follow up with a report to firstname.lastname@example.org about what you are doing so they will know where to look.
Update 4: I just got of the phone with Special Agent Matthew Smith of the FBI’s Innocent Images department, and he is on the case. He’s calling Memphis to make sure authorities make contact with the girl, and going after the posting of the videos once they have confirmation. At this point I have sent communications to the hosters of every copy of the video I could find, as well as other businesses associated with the video. I have contacted Twitter twice. Not a single entity has returned my communications. I guess I’ll give them the day, but I’m not happy about this.