At a time when Bay Area law enforcement has ramped up its campaign against human trafficking, a large San Francisco tech company might be forestalling their efforts.
According to a new investigative report from online periodical TheStreet, Twitter hosts more than a thousand ads from escorts, sex workers, and even international trafficking rings. Although these accounts violate the prohibitions against pornography and "unlawful use" laid out in Twitter's terms of service, many of them have not been removed.
A spokeswoman from Twitter told SF Weekly that the company does not proactively police its user content. Rather, the network relies on users to flag and report "potentially illegal content."
"When we are made aware of content that violates our terms of service, we remove it," the spokeswoman wrote, via e-mail. "Additionally, if we are contacted directly by law enforcement, we can work with them and provide assistance for their investigation as well as guidance around possible approaches."
But tech entrepreneur and researcher Vivek Wadhwa decries Twitter's hands-off approach, arguing that the company has greater responsibility to monitor content, now that it's gone public.
"Twitter is turning a blind eye," Wadhwa says. "When they were a young company, they could get away with it. But they're no longer a young, fledgling start-up; they're a multi-billion dollar company."
Members of Congress agreed that the social network can no longer dodge culpability for the actions of some of its users. Some are so incensed, in fact, that they might launch an official probe into, Twitter's surfeit of prostitution services. After TheStreet reporter Jonathan Marino presented his findings to New Jersey Representative Chris Smith, who sits on the subcommittee that oversees human trafficking, Smith said he would elicit testimony from Twitter executives.
In the meantime, it seems that local cops and detectives could take advantage of the network as an investigative tool, the same way they once trolled Craigslist for prostitution ads. So far, they don't seem to be doing that. Spokesmen from the SFPD have yet to answer queries from SF Weekly, but retired Sergeant Carl T says the vice unit didn't engage in much proactive tweetage.
Perhaps that will change after today's revelations.