Over a span of roughly two months, NBC News reports, Twitter and law enforcement failed to intervene while a 13-year-old boy was being publicly groomed by a 26-year-old adult on the social media platform.
The exchanges eventually led to an abduction, according to prosecutors, with the boy reportedly being driven across state lines and sexually assaulted repeatedly. All the while, the suspect was sending out public tweets that were clearly aimed at the boy.
It's a horrifying incident that goes to show the Elon Musk-led company and law enforcement are woefully unprepared to stop such a thing from happening — even when it's in plain sight.
In fact, around the same time the boy was being groomed, Musk called addressing child exploitation on Twitter his "priority number one."
Meanwhile, users begged Musk on Twitter, according to the report, urging him that "this guy has taken a 13-year-old boy, take his account down and retweet the amber alert" on the day the boy was kidnapped.
Musk, however, never replied.
"I need to move forward and figure out what the hell happened," the boy's mother Heather McConney told NBC. "Where did the ball get dropped?"
According to the report, McConney also questioned whether Musk's disastrous takeover of Twitter and the ensuing mass layoffs may have slowed down the investigation.
In February, the New York Times found that child exploitation content is still rampant on the platform and that it took 3.5 days to respond to alerts on average in December 2022 — shortly after Musk took over — a big year-over-year increase from just 1.6 days in December 2021.
According to evidence reviewed by NBC, including tweets, online messages, and court filings, local police had plenty of material. Almost a month before the boy was abducted, police sent a search warrant to Twitter to find out more about the suspect.
The suspect's username, however, was misspelled, an error that wasn't spotted for several weeks, with Twitter not responding to law enforcement's eventual requests to update the information.
Days later the boy was abducted, NBC reports.
"As a general rule we respond to any law enforcement request within a matter of 2-3 business days depending on the type of request," Ella Irwin, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, told NBC in an email.
According to law enforcement, Twitter initially pushed back after police filed an emergency request for information following the kidnapping, but eventually cooperated.
"We are very open to collaborating further with law enforcement on how we can speed up and better assist them with these types of investigations involving missing children and the data requests they may have in these cases," Irwin told NBC.
Fortunately, the boy was eventually found at a gas station after a person called in a suspicious vehicle. The suspect has been charged with four counts of sexual assault, federal kidnapping, and child pornography.
Whether Twitter can do better next time remains to be seen.
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