ActiveFence Annual State of Trust & Safety Report Reveals Pressing Threats Facing Online Organizations
New report explores the commercialization of disinformation, child predator networks, and violent terrorist groups
NEW YORK, February 15, 2023 – ActiveFence, whose mission is to protect online platforms and their users from malicious behavior and content, today released its State of Trust & Safety 2023 report, which reveals new patterns in threat actor behaviors, tactics, and techniques. The report contains an analytically comprehensive evaluation of the top threats contributing to online harm – from disinformation campaigns and child predator networks, to human exploitation operations and online terrorist organizations – with the goal of reducing the prevalence of these dangerous activities to improve the digital safety of billions of global users.
As the internet continues to become an increasingly powerful and populated arena for business and society, so do the unique and sensitive issues that arise from unrestricted user generated content.
“Empowering platforms to identify and remove harmful and misleading content is one of today’s most complex, nuanced challenges,” said Noam Schwartz, CEO and co-founder of ActiveFence. “I expect the 2023 threat landscape will be marked by increased professionalization, emboldened threat actors, and the blurring of lines between the digital and physical worlds. And with new regulations like the Digital Services Act (DSA), online platforms need to act swiftly to understand how to prevent and remediate these issues, and continue providing safe experiences for their users.”
The commercialization of disinformation
The Covid-19 pandemic and following years have ushered in a trend of “mass misinformation,” whereby threat actors evolved their tactics in order to evade platform detection, and the volume of targets has increased. Political misinformation rose 150% between the fourth quarter of 2021 and the fourth quarter of 2022. In 2022, threat actors replaced bots with seemingly authentic accounts to spread disinformation, as we saw during the U.S. 2022 midterm elections. Disinformation is increasingly hosted on bespoke websites on mainstream platforms, making the content more difficult to detect and more easily shareable. We saw this play out during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
ActiveFence observed an operation that distributed false and misleading anti-Muslim conspiracy theories ahead of the Uttar Pradesh-based state legislative assembly in India in March 2022. The operation exploited instant messaging and social media, spanning across four social platforms and impacting 600,000 followers with 100 posts per day. ActiveFence was able to issue a warning to its partners four and a half days before mainstream media reported on the activity, preventing dangerous narratives that could have caused social unrest.
More recently, ActiveFence spent more than seven months monitoring online activity in Brazil leading up to and following the presidential election. They alerted partners about the potential for political and societal disruptions over the contested outcome, including the protests leading to the violent storming of federal buildings that led to more than 1,200 arrests and the false narratives disseminated by Bolsonaro supporters that the riot was carried out by agents from the Worker’s Party.
Child exploitation online
Online predators became bolder in 2022, especially as children are joining social media at a younger age. This has resulted in a rise in sextortion crimes, of which the FBI received 7,000 reported cases, resulting in over a dozen teen suicides. Additionally, this past year has seen an increase in minors’ emulation of the adult performer creator economy, wherein minors are producing their own child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
ActiveFence discovered a CSAM network that shared links and ran advertisements to monetize child predator traffic, with just one of the entities sharing 120 videos to 197,000 followers, garnering 13 million views. ActiveFence notified the abused platforms of the new account activity, which forced the nefarious network to shift promotional strategies until it became too difficult to abuse the platform, ultimately closing their monetized CSAM offering.
Online terror promotion
ActiveFence detected an extensive ISIS-supportive terrorist promotional network of 465 audio and video files reaching 418 publications in 11 languages. The network published videos showing the brutal executions of captured prisoners and audio of violence-inciting sermons. The threat actors evaded on-platform moderation by operating backup entities, but ActiveFence was able to locate these backup accounts and warned the abused platforms so they could remove the network, ultimately deterring network regeneration.
In observing ISIS supporters, ActiveFence noted their deployment of guerilla social media tactics in 2022 to exploit global events, such as Morocco’s World Cup matches in Qatar. Supporters tagged snippets of ISIS propaganda using trending hashtags to reach diverse audiences quickly. ISIS also continued to focus on establishing a strong presence in Africa last year, as ActiveFence detected a 700% increase in ISIS propaganda productions in the first quarter of 2022, specifically recruiting in West Africa.
To read the full report, click here.
ActiveFence is the leading solution for Trust and Safety intelligence and management, protecting online platforms and their users from malicious behavior and content. Trust and Safety teams of all sizes rely on ActiveFence to keep their users safe from the widest spectrum of online harms, unwanted content, and malicious behavior, including child safety and exploitation, disinformation, hate speech, terror, nudity, fraud, and more. We offer a full stack of capabilities with our deep intelligence research, AI-driven harmful content detection, and content moderation platform. Protecting over three billion users globally everyday in 100 languages, ActiveFence lets people interact and thrive online.
Backed by leading Silicon Valley investors such as CRV and Norwest, ActiveFence has raised $100M to date; employs over 300 people worldwide; and has contributed to the online safety of billions of users across the globe.