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Twitter Ran Ads on Profiles Trading in Child Sexual Abuse Content

Twitter says it's investigating the situation and suspended profiles for violating its rules.

twitter-hq-headquarters-02098
Twitter makes most of its money from selling advertisements.
James Martin/CNET

Twitter said Wednesday it's investigating how ads from major brands appeared on profiles that were soliciting or selling child sexual abuse content.

"We are working closely with our clients and partners to investigate the situation and take the appropriate steps to prevent this from happening in the future," Twitter spokesperson Celeste Carswell said in a statement.

The company said it's been working on better detecting and suspending accounts that post child sexual exploitation material and ensuring the company has "the right models, processes and products in place to help keep everyone who uses Twitter safe -- people and brands alike." The company said it suspended many profiles it found that shared this content for violating its rules but didn't say how many.

The revelation comes during a rough time for Twitter. The influential social media company is currently in a legal fight with billionaire Elon Musk, who is trying to back out of a deal to purchase the company for $44 billion. Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, the former head of security at Twitter, also alleged in a whistleblower complaint that he uncovered security problems at the company. Twitter, like other social networks, has also struggled to combat harmful sexual content. In late August, The Verge reported that Twitter scrapped plans to create an OnlyFans competitor because a team concluded the company couldn't accurately detect child sexual exploitation and non-consensual nudity content.

Reuters, which interviewed some of the upset advertisers, reported that several brands such as Dyson, Mazda and chemicals company Ecolab suspended their marketing campaigns or pulled some of their ads from Twitter after they discovered their ads ran alongside these offensive tweets. The news outlet, citing research from cybersecurity group Ghost Data, said roughly 30 brands, including the Walt Disney Company, Cole Haan and Coca-Cola, had ads appear on profiles soliciting child sexual abuse content. Business Insider reported that Twitter informed the advertisers about what happened and the work they're doing to address the issue.

David Maddocks, brand president at Cole Haan, told Reuters that the company was "horrified" after finding out the brand's ads ran alongside tweets that solicited child sexual abuse content. "Either Twitter is going to fix this, or we'll fix it by any means we can, which includes not buying Twitter ads," he told Reuters. One ad for the shoe and accessories brand appeared alongside a tweet in which a user said they were "trading teen/child" content, Reuters reported.

Twitter makes most of its money from selling advertising and tech companies are trying to cut costs as they brace for an economic downturn by freezing hiring, laying off workers or pulling back on certain projects. In the second quarter, which runs from April to June, Twitter's ad revenue totaled $1.08 billion.