Meet a digital groundbreaker: Thorn


End Violence has invested $10 million more to keep children #SafeOnline. Through our latest funding round, we are welcoming 14 new projects into our Safe Online portfolio – all of which are using cutting-edge technology to fight online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Our Digital Groundbreaker series was created to introduce the End Violence community to the grantees spearheading these new projects. Each week, we are profiling a different grantee from our newest funding round, each of which was given $450,000-$750,000 to push a solution to online violence forward.

Today, we are focusing on Thorn, which will use End Violence funding to develop their artificial intelligence classifiers, which are working to automate the detection of child sexual abuse material. End Violence spoke with Julie Cordua, the CEO of Thorn, to learn more about Thorn’s priorities, programme, and insights around online exploitation and abuse.

What do you feel is the biggest threat to children online?

One of the biggest threats to children online today is the growing epidemic of online child sexual abuse material. Online communities of abusers thrive on the production and distribution of millions of images and videos documenting severe child sexual abuse. This fuels demand and continues to re-victimise children even after they’ve been removed from harm, often stifling their ability to recover. It is well within our reach, with the right technology, global data collaboration and the engagement by industry, to stop the spread of this material and significantly dismantle the communities that fuel abuse.

How will the new funding from End Violence enable you to tackle that threat? What are the key expected results of your project?

To find victims faster and stop the viral spread of abuse material, we need to improve the technology being used on the front lines and create environments for global data collaboration. We need a response that is proportionate to the scale and scope of the pervasiveness of the abuse. With this investment, we will leverage the global community of experts to build new datasets and classifiers that will help to identify new child sexual abuse material at the point of upload and ultimately stop its viral spread. This is critical as new content may represent children in active abuse situations.

To do this, we will marshal a global coordinated response among leading experts and specialists to create a standard by which all data can be labelled and used to train new classifiers. This process will improve the ability for international efforts to contribute to the global knowledge of this issue.

What was your organisation’s most successful experience against online violence in the past?

Thorn has technology deployed around the world today to help identify victims faster and to stop the viral spread of online child sexual abuse material. One example is our recent experience with Flickr, a photo-sharing site. Flickr uses Safer, our industry product that helps sites identify, remove, and report child sexual abuse material, to identify and report this material to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. After this report was sent, an investigation by law enforcement followed – ultimately identifying 21 child victims represented in online abuse images. Officers removed those images to prevent the children from further harm and arrested the perpetrator, who is now in federal prison.

This is one of many stories we receive – and that we mark as a success – where the technology we build changes lives and stops the revictimisation of child victims.

What motivates you, as an individual, to work on this subject?

It is absolutely possible to end online child sexual abuse. I am motivated to realise that possibility – one that creates a better future for our children. It is going to take thinking big, working hard, and changing and motivating hearts and minds around the world, but it is 100% possible.

I’m also motivated everyday by the people who step up and work to realise a better world for our children. I get to work with some of the smartest people I have ever worked with to build the solutions that will change the way we protect our children, and I’m humbled by the dedication of all who come to work on this issue.

I have a vision for a world where every child can simply be a kid – and eliminating child sexual abuse material from the internet isn’t just technically possible, it’s what kids deserve.