How to Handle Pedophiles in CommunitiesRead time in minutes: 10
This post is going to talk about people that try to target children for sexual favors. You are not required to read this. If you are prone to anxiety I absolutely cannot recommend reading this post. Dealing with the situations that lead me to write this post (and doing the research that has lead to learning how to do this) has caused me to lose a lot of sleep over the last month.
It is my hope that this post is NOT useful to readers. If it ever becomes useful I suggest crying a bit. Yes, seriously.
For better or worse since Covid started pushing everyone indoors and online, a lot of online spaces that were usually populated by adults have become populated with a lot more people that are under the age of consent/majority. This is obviously not the most ideal, as it ends up making that community a target for pedophiles. I want to be clear though, this kind of thing is a black swan kind of event, not something that happens commonly. However when it does happen, oh god it HAPPENS.
For the rest of this article I'm going to assume a few things in how I direct my advice:
- You are a moderator/administrator of a community
- There has been an accusation of someone doing something untoward with a minor
- You may or may not have any evidence (screenshots of DMs, etc.)
First, don't panic. This is going to be a stressful and scary thing. This is normal. You are feeling that feeling that you are feeling and it is happening. It is going to suck. You are going to lose sleep. This is something that is happening because you care about that community, and if you didn't care about it you would not be having these feelings. If you feel the need, cry about it. Let the emotions out instead of bottling them up. This sounds like a dumb meme or whatever but I am being dead serious in this recommendation.
So, now, one of the first things you need to do is review the terms and conditions of the platform you are moderating the community on.
If you are not on someone else's platform as you do this, you probably have access to A LOT MORE INFORMATION about the users involved than nearly everyone else in this kind of situation has access to. This is a boon and a curse, because then you get to be the one to report the pedophile to the FBI (or equivalent).
If you are on a platform such as Discord, Twitter or Telegram, review their help info for something along the lines of "Trust and Safety" or similar. Find out how to make a report and what information you need to gather.
If the accused is a moderator of the community, you are in a whole new level of shit. You probably need to start a group chat elsewhere to coordinate the following actions. This kind of thing can literally destroy communities or cause them to devolve into witch hunts if you are not careful.
Then you gather the information. Start breaking out search tools and look for instances of the two users talking with eachother in public. Look for the phrase "age is just a number" as well as any instances of the minor confirming their age around the other person. Get identifiers of those messages as well as screenshots. The screenshots will be useful if the accused person decides they want to remove their messages from the platform.
Look for instances of the accused person trying to talk with the minor on another platform, especially if it is a game that allows for in-game communication through voice, video or an avatar-based chat environment.
When you are getting evidence from the minor, make sure that the evidence is in full-screen screenshots as much as possible. Given the unfortunate prevalence of Electron-based desktop applications that leave the browser inspector enabled, you are going to want to prefer getting screenshots from mobile devices as much as you can. Mobile devices don't have the browser inspector. Android phones are easy to install a hacked version of apps on. iPhones or iPads are generally a bit more reliable because it goes from "very hard" to "nearly impossible" to directly edit the screen contents of a direct message on modern releases of iOS/iPadOS.
Once you have the information and have reviewed it, open Gimp and run the screenshots through the edge detection filter. This filter will allow you to look for any obvious signs of the text in the screenshot being doctored. Certain kinds of people have been known to fake reports and screenshots of someone doing something untoward to a child as a way to get them removed from a community. This will help you weed them out. It sounds heartless to say it like this, but this is something that you actually do end up seeing happen sometimes so it is worth mentioning.
If anyone on the moderation team ends up leaking the information about this research, contents of the research, people involved in the event or anything of the sort to the person being investigated: flat-out ban them without any chance of appeal. That gives the person being investigated a chance to delete information that would hinder any hope of investigating the situation.
Reporting to the Platform
Once you have the bundle of information, identifiers and more, then you need to open a ticket with the trust and safety team of the platform you are on (however if this is a self-hosted platform either contact the service administrator or if you are the service administrator then you can skip to the next step involving the FBI). Give them all the information you have. Explain the situation as best as you can.
When you send the report to the platform itself, it is very unlikely you will get any more information from the platform. You are likely going to get an email that says they've confirmed recipt of the information and that email will usually contain something about the situation being confidential inside the moderation team of the platform. This is normal, and is part of a legal "covering my ass" kind of situation.
Reporting to the FBI or Similar
Figure out what country the accused is in. This could be done by searching for them mentioning it outright in the chat (conveniently, this is usually the case), GeoIP data (if you have access to their IP addresses, assuming they aren't using a VPN service) or something like that. Figure out what the equivalent of the FBI is for that country.
Take all that information you built up for your report to the trust and safety team and submit a report to the equivalent of the FBI. Don't worry about it all being in another language, they have experts that will be able to understand it. You are going to have to include a phone number. You're probably going to be called. You may not get a confirmation email back immediately.
This will feel stressful. It will be okay. You are doing everything right.
Banning the Pedophile
At this point, if you haven't already, ban the pedophile from the community. Ban them as completely as possible. Set the ban for a permanent duration. If you know of any alt accounts of the pedophile, ban them too.
For a bit after the ban, you may have the pedophile attempt to evade that ban by making new accounts. Ban them too (and include them in a followup report to the platform). It's gonna feel like a game of whac-a-mole, but it's whac-a-mole for a good cause.
Reporting This to Users
It is going to be tempting to just sweep this under the rug and ignore it because the situation seems handled at this point. This is a bad idea. People are going to notice, especially if the user you just banned was a particularly active one.
Here is a good announcement template to use for this:
Recently it has come to our attention that a user was accused of engaging with a minor in a sexual manner. We have done an investigation and taken action in order to protect our community. If you are a minor and recieve any contact from anyone in a sexual manner, please contact a moderator so we can help resolve the situation.
Depending on the individual community in question, you may want to include the name of the person who was accused. Personally I lean towards the "let the scrollback claim this one" approach. Having this announcement is good enough as is.
Talk with your therapist, religious authority or similar about this. This is going to feel like a traumatic incident. You may want to let your workplace know that you are going through some shit as a result of this and that your performance is going to be impacted by it. You will prevail.
This post brought to you by 20 hours of lost sleep, and a bunch of stories I hope to never ever have to tell to anyone.