Think you have what it takes to be a “Digital Defender of Children?” Ashton Kutcher could use your help. Both Kutcher and Demi Moore partnered together to build upon their former task force projects by starting Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, a non-profit organization dedicated to driving technological innovation to fight child sexual exploitation. “What I’ve seen makes you question humanity,” states Ashton Kutcher. “Technology plays a huge role in child sexual exploitation and we are committed to making the Internet a more hostile environment for predators.”
Innovate, Experiment and Think Big
Thorn recently announced a groundbreaking Innovation Lab in Silicon Valley, and is now looking for the best and brightest to work in collaboration with their research groups, tech companies, non-profits, NGOs and special task forces to join the fight against global child sexual exploitation. “The name Thorn itself has a beautiful connotation,” according to the organization. “Thorns protect the rose; the rose here are our children and their futures.”
“The Lab will serve as a think tank for a team of data scientists and engineers to create and develop research technologies, innovative tech solutions and partnerships to fight child sexual exploitation. It will also leverage fellowships, internships, university and corporate partnerships and hack-a-thons to achieve its goals.”
Major Tech Companies Back Thorn
The Thorn Innovation Lab has partnered with the biggest key players in the tech industry such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, SV Angel, Expedia, Twitter, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Pinterest, with Google being a particularly involved and prolific backer. “Google.org, our philanthropic arm, has invested nearly $20 million in organizations fighting child exploitation and human trafficking. We are proud to lead this investment in Thorn to help create a center 100 percent dedicated to creating good applications of technology that will help protect children, find victims and stop abusive behavior,” said Susan Molinari, vice president of public policy and government relations at Google.
The companies will participate financially as well as provide guidance, expertise and engineering support. According to Julie Cordua, CEO of Thorn, “the initial phase of the organization will focus on child sex trafficking, exploitation, dark web child abuse and cyber safety.” However, the organization will always be in beta and open to all technological innovation and ideas that explore different spaces where Thorn can save as many lives as possible from child sexual exploitation. I spoke to Cordua about Thorn’s current projects, how she came to join the organization and why Thorn is not afraid to risk failure to achieve greater impact.
The Toggle: What inspired you to join Thorn?
Julie Cordua: I’ve been with the organization for almost 5 years now, and what inspires me and continues to inspire me about this work is the ability to channel the power of the private sector and innovation on behalf of some of the world’s most vulnerable children. I have a technology background and passion for innovation, and worked with the company RED by using my skills in the private sector for good. So now, I see the horrible atrocities committed against these children and wonder how can technology and the brightest minds in this field take action in this space. That’s why I decided to work for Thorn and have such a passion for our new Innovation Lab. I want to help gather some of the best and brightest minds in technology to join us and make a true and vital impact in putting an end to child sexual exploitation.
TT: Thorn has stated that they are “willing to risk failure to achieve greater impact.” Can you elaborate more on this statement?
JC: There are many companies who aren’t willing to risk going after a challenge like child sexual exploitation because of the lack of a profitable business model. So now, if you want to do this, you have to set it into a space of a non-profit. But again, we are dealing with such advanced technologies in the world of child exploitation, such as the dark web or foreign looking platforms, that most non-profits will be afraid to fail because they can’t afford to keep up with this kind of underground world. So, they’ll stay in a safer space of the “open web.” But the reality is if you do this, you’re leaving a huge amount of child victims behind by not tackling the really hard challenges. But we are incredibly lucky to have a donor base who understands these challenges and feels strongly that you need to take measured risks to receive great gains.
TT: What is Thorn currently working on that no one else has been able to achieve in helping eradicate child sexual exploitation?
JC: We have many projects and partnerships that we’re proud of. One is called Spotlight, which is helping to identify child sex trafficking victims being sold online. This project is currently in the hands of 1,500 officers across the country and through this platform, we’ve been able to identify 300 trafficking victims so far. The goal of Spotlight is having better data insight to make domestic investigations smarter, find children faster and reduce the time of victim trauma.
We’re also exploring the Dark Web, where the worst of the worst is published, to try and exam what we can do about being smarter and quicker about protecting the victims being published in that environment. We’re also sharing best practices with fast moving start-up companies that can be susceptible to becoming a platform for abusive content and behavior. We’ve been working with companies to document all the best practices in the industry and provide all of this information in a handbook that helps them to protect their company from becoming a platform for any abuse against children.
Thorn’s online child sexual abuse deterrence programs have currently reached more than two million people, and they’re just getting started. Interested in becoming a Digital Defender for Thorn? Learn more about the organization by visiting their website or following them on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.
All photos/videos courtesy and property of Thorn.