The internet is a great place. But for women in particular, the experience can be different because they are often the target for non-consensual interactions.
According to a 2018's YouGov poll, the market research company found that 1 in 4 women aged 18-36 have been sent unsolicited penis pictures. And according to research from Pew, young women are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment online; 53 percent of women 18-29 years old said they’d received an explicit image they never asked for.
Making matters worse, the internet is less capable in stopping that, making perpetrators to freely target and abuse their victims.
From continuing unsolicited interactions, to other forms of sexual harassment.
Earlier this September, after waking up to yet another unsolicited 'dick pic' waiting for her in Twitter DMs, Kelsey Bressler, a developer, decided to take matters into her own hands.
She and her friend she'd met online through activism work, are creating a tool to automatically detect and remove such explicit images.
Using AI, Bressler and her friend train machine learning agent to screen and recognize illicit images. The plan is to eventually turn the program into a Twitter plugin specifically for Twitter DMs, which is something Twitter doesn’t support.
Since AI needs a lot of examples to learn, this AI by Bressler and her friend needs to first understand what a 'dick pic' really looks like. As a matter of fact, it needs hundreds and more to really know what 'dicks' are.
To do this, the two developers create another Twitter handle (@showyodiq) to gather the explicit imagery.
I'm soliciting dick pics at the handle @showyodiq .
This is not a joke.
I am testing a filter that is under development which will automatically detect dick pics in DMs and handle them on behalf of the user (delete, delete&block).
18+ , consensual, human dicks only please.
— K E L S E Y (@raeBress) September 5, 2019
"When someone submits a photo that’s recognized as a penis, it gets deleted automatically," Bressler said. “To test the tool, I’ve asked people to submit their 18+, consensual photos to me.”
Initially, she said that she received at least 300 pictures of penises, including some with people putting their fingers through their pants' zippers, and some penises covered in glitter. She fed all that to the AI. She even received some pictures of the U.S. President Donald Trump.
Initial tests showed that the system was "tricked" by a man wearing a cage over his genitals, and also from the penis covered in glitter, and a penis sandwiched inside a hot dog bun. However, Bressler said that the software was a "huge success" when it came to detecting "vanilla" penis photos and nudes.
Major social media platforms and some dating apps do have filters in place to nude pics to show up. But according to Bressler that in her experience, they don’t work. Commenting about Twitter that has yet to show its care to find solutions, she said that:
"People say the easy solution is to close your messages - but we should not have to shut ourselves off to the world because some people do not know how to behave."
"Our intent was to make something to prove it can be made. If it takes two random people coming in and making a solution, then we should ask, why aren’t companies taking this more seriously?"
In the long term, Bressler hopes that the tool can be made more widely available. She also said that she is open to sharing this research with Twitter when the project is finished.