Sexualized violence on the InternetNew protective measures at Meta against sextortion

Children and young people can be affected by various forms of sexual violence on the internet. These include sexual blackmail in the form of sextortion. This involves victims being blackmailed with intimate images that they have sent or that were secretly created in a video chat. The US company Meta, which owns WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, is currently testing new measures to better protect children and young people from image-based sexualized violence.

Among other things, young people use social media to get to know other users and, for example, to discuss shared interests. It becomes dangerous when an online contact is not the person they claim to be and pursues criminal interests. One example of this is sextortion. This involves blackmail with sexual images via the internet. The perpetrators usually chat with their victims with the aim of obtaining intimate images of them. Once they are in possession of the sexually explicit material, they blackmail their victims with the threat of publishing the recordings.

In the case of financially motivated sextortion, perpetrators demand money. Financial sextortion is increasingly being used by international fraud gangs . In the case of sexually motivated se xtortion, perpetrators demand further sexual images. Children and young people affected by sextortion feel particularly helpless and hardly know any ways out. Shame and fear of family or friends seeing the recordings make it difficult for them to seek help and report the crime. There is therefore a high risk that they will respond to the demands. However, this often leads to further demands, either for more money or for further recordings.

Sextortion is punishable as a form of blackmail. If children or adolescents are affected, there may also be other criminal offenses, such as "sexual abuse of children without physical contact with the child", "preparation of sexual abuse of children" and criminal liability for "distribution, acquisition and possession of child or youth pornographic content".

AI-assisted software to detect and obscure nude images on Meta

The US technology company Meta is a partner of the tool developed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)Take It Down. This service is designed to help young people prevent their recordings from being disseminated on various platforms. Children and young people can report recordings of themselves on the platform in just a few steps without having to upload them.

How does "Take it Down" work?

The "Take It Down" service aims to protect minors from the unwanted distribution of intimate images or videos. To use the service, users should therefore not wait until the images have appeared online. Instead, young people can report intimate images or videos to "Take It Down" in encrypted form as a precaution. Here you can find out how the "Take it Down" service works and which online platforms are currently participating.

Meta is now testing additional new tools to protect children and young people in particular from sextortion and other forms of image-based sexualized violence on Meta services such as Instagram. Young people are to be supported in better recognizing sextortion and sexual abuse on the internet and getting help in good time. New measures are also intended to make it more difficult for potential perpetrators to contact young people.

The measures currently being tested by Meta include

  • Stricter message settings for young people so that they cannot be contacted by strangers and the display of warnings when children and young people receive messages from potential perpetrators
  • Special option for reporting direct messages threatening to share images.
  • New feature to protect nudity in Instagram direct messages: Images where nudity is detected using AI-powered software are automatically blurred and a warning is added. The aim is to prevent users from sending intimate images of themselves without thinking and from being confronted with nude images unintentionally. The protection function is to be activated worldwide for accounts of minors under the age of 18. Adult users will be notified and asked to activate the setting.
  • Accounts that have already been reported will be prevented from creating new accounts. Meta also states that it may report these accounts to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and law enforcement agencies
  • Message requests from perpetrators are to be moved directly to the recipient's hidden request folder so that the message is not displayed at all.

Tips for protection against sextortion and sexual abuse on the internet

  • Remain suspicious:
    No matter how nice and charming an online contact appears at first glance, we can never know online whether the person really is who they say they are. It helps to always take a close look at and check the social media profiles of online contacts. However, it is important to bear in mind that deepfakes, for example, are making it increasingly easy to create fake profiles.
  • Protect your privacy:
    Your profile should never reveal too much private information, such as your age and place of residence. Personal data such as your address or sensitive data such as bank details should also never be given to strangers.
  • Be careful when sending intimate photos:
    Sending intimate photos of yourself online is always associated with a risk, regardless of whether you know the person personally or not. There is always the danger that you could be blackmailed with these recordings afterwards, that the recordings could be forwarded via chat or shared publicly.
  • Use Take It Down or StopNCII: 
    These two services help to prevent intimate images from being uploaded to the participating platforms. Take It Down is aimed at people under the age of 18 and is aimed at people aged 18 and over.
  • Block, report, delete:
    Safe online chatting also includes breaking off contact immediately if you feel uncomfortable, for example because a person suddenly becomes very intrusive. It is then best not to enter into any discussions and to block the profile directly and report it on the platform.
  • Report blackmail:
    If you are blackmailed with intimate recordings, you must assume that the demands will not stop if they are followed up. Under no circumstances should you pay money or send further recordings. It is advisable to go to the local police station and file a complaint. This is because sexual blackmail is illegal. It is essential to secure evidence beforehand.
  • Preserve evidence: 
    It is important to take legally compliant screenshots of chat histories and messages as well as of the perpetrator's profile. HateAid explains what you need to bear in mind. When it comes to recordings of minors, please follow these instructions to avoid making yourself liable to prosecution.
  • Report child and youth pornographic content: 
    If images of people under the age of 18 have been published, they can also be reported at or .
  • Get help: 
    You don't have to do everything alone. Those affected can ask a trusted person or counseling services such as the Sexual Abuse Helpline for help. You can find further counselling services in our topic area on image-based sexualized violence.

The interactive video "No Escape Room" from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children can help to address the topic of sextortion in the classroom. The video is only available in English. 

→ Click here for the interactive video