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This chapter examines the phenomenon of internet users attempting to report and prevent online child sexual exploitation (CSE) and child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in…
This chapter examines the phenomenon of internet users attempting to report and prevent online child sexual exploitation (CSE) and child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in the absence of adequate intervention by internet service providers, social media platforms, and government. The chapter discusses the history of online CSE, focusing on regulatory stances over time in which online risks to children have been cast as natural and inevitable by the hegemony of a “cyberlibertarian” ideology. We illustrate the success of this ideology, as well as its profound contradictions and ethical failures, by presenting key examples in which internet users have taken decisive action to prevent online CSE and promote the removal of CSAM. Rejecting simplistic characterizations of “vigilante justice,” we argue instead that the fact that often young internet users report feeling forced to act against online CSE and CSAM undercuts libertarian claims that internet regulation is impossible, unworkable, and unwanted. Recent shifts toward a more progressive ethos of online harm minimization are promising; however, this ethos risks offering a new legitimizing ideology for online business models that will continue to put children at risk of abuse and exploitation. In conclusion, we suggest ways forward toward an internet built in the interests of children, rather than profit.