The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) recently released a report outlining measures to reduce the risk of exposure – accidental or intentional – to adult material online by children. The report highlights just how easy it is for under-18s to access adult content, and makes recommendations for “default” settings on all internet-enabled devices that automatically block adult content until an age verification process has been implemented. The Commission proposes that bypassing this process be made a criminal offence.

The move echoes the proposed law in the UK (supposed to have been implemented on July 15 this year, but delayed due to administrative difficulties) that will see all UK Internet Service Providers having to confirm that users are over 18 before allowing them to access pornographic sites.

On the surface, this all sounds like a great idea – any measures to limit children’s exposure to inappropriate content online should be enthusiastically embraced and applauded. Dig a little deeper, however, and there are holes in these proposals so big you could drive a truck through them.

The most worrying of these is that none of the proposed regulations apply to social media – specifically sites like Twitter and Reddit.

The problem is that social media sites and search engines are viewed as “ancillary service providers.” As such, adult content found on social media is not defined as “online commercial pornography” and is therefore exempt from having to adhere to the new age-verifiction legislation proposals. The best that governments can do is ask these sites to take action against those who don’t comply with general content guidelines. But if none is actually taken, there’s nothing the Powers That Be can currently do to penalise them.

Pornography On Twitter – A Global Problem

Here’s what Twitter says about its rules on pornography:

“Pornography and other forms of consensually produced adult content are allowed on Twitter, provided that this media is marked as sensitive. Doing so provides people who may not want to see this type of content with a warning that they will need to acknowledge before viewing your media.”

But all it takes is a quick click on the warning button, and seconds later, you’re watching porn. It’s completely anonymous – unless you “like” or “retweet” what you’ve watched, there’s no history, or record of any kind, that you’ve done so.

As Joe Todd, boss of UK porn firm Fake Taxi, says: “All you have to do is click that button and you can watch as much porn as you want on Twitter … you don’t need to go onto a porn site. As a parent if you’re letting your 13-year-old have free reign on their iPhone, even if you’re strict, there’s no way of stopping it. That’s what I think a lot of people don’t realise about Twitter – it’s one of the biggest porn sites in the world.”

One online porn star told respected publication HuffPost that “Twitter is the only form of social media that allows hardcore pics, gifs and trailers. It’s allowed me to build a following in countries that don’t allow their citizens to access regular porn sites.”

And in this blog, which specifically advises readers as to the best Twitter porn accounts to follow, the writer says: “Many people probably don’t know this, but Twitter is one of the few social media platforms that allow you to watch porn in its pure, unadulterated form. Whether its porn star selfies or promotional GIFs from porn studios, there is enough XXX content doing the rounds on Twitter to keep you on edge. And because it’s available on your desktop or whatever high-tech mobile gadget you choose, you can watch porn from pretty much anywhere.”

Why Isn’t Twitter More Like Facebook?

As the world’s largest social media platform, Facebook could easily exploit the legislative loopholes and allow unrestricted adult content to run wild. But it doesn’t. It actually has quite strict and unambiguous rules and regulations in place when it comes to sexually explicit posts and groups.

It says: “Facebook restricts sexually explicit language because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content.” Also prohibited is talk about “partners who share sexual interests,” “sexualised slang,” any “hints or mentions of sexual positions or fetish scenarios” and art featuring people in provocative poses.

Facebook has also banned content aimed at sexual solicitation: “We draw the line when content facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults,” is says. “We also restrict sexually explicit language that may lead to solicitation because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content and it may impede the ability for people to connect with their friends and the broader community.”

Facebook has invested heavily in techology that identifies posted content that doesn’t comply with their policies so that it can be quickly removed. Why isn’t Twitter doing the same?

What Can We Do?

Twitter plays a huge role in our current pop culture. With 319 million monthly users, its reach and influence are vast. The potential it has, therefore, to do real damage through the publication of unrestricted adult content is extremely worrying. But how do we regulate it? What measures can our government take to protect our children from exposure to inapproapriate and damaging content?

The proposed age-verification process for pornographic websites clearly isn’t enough. Legislation needs to apply to social media too. At the end of the day, If it’s illegal in the real world, it should be illegal online. Exposing children to pornographic content is a crime in South Africa – why is it not a crime on Twitter?