In 1885 an idea came to a businessperson named Henry Parsons Crowell that forever changed breakfast tables in America. Up to that time, storeowners sold rolled oats from big open barrels or boxes that were on the floors of grocery or general stores. The problem with that merchandizing method was that the open barrels and boxes attracted “insects, worms, and vermin.” Crowell’s idea was to sell his company’s oats in individual, sanitary, cardboard containers. The idea worked, revolutionized the cereal industry, Crowell’s Quaker Oats became famous, and his company became very, very profitable.[i]
Today’s Internet resembles one of those big open barrels of oats so common during the 1880’s. The Internet also attracts “insects, worms, and vermin,” but of a different kind.
“The modern internet is infested with stomach-churning images of children who have been brutally assaulted and exploited, and who are haunted by a lifetime of pain after these photographs and videos are circulated online. Tech companies have long had ready access to low-cost, or even free tools to combat the scourge of child sexual abuse material but have failed to act...” [ii]
However, the things are changing. Encouraging trends are emerging in the battle against pornography.
“Just a few years ago, holding Internet pornography websites accountable under the law for their role in hosting, distributing, and profiting from child sexual abuse material (CSAM), rape, sex trafficking, and sexual abuse images seemed to be an impossible task. It is impossible no more! 2022 is the year the Internet pornography industry, a.k.a. ‘Big Porn,’ started tumbling down.”[iii]
Evidence of one such encouraging trend is recent bipartisan efforts in Congress aimed at making the tech industry more accountable for the explosive growth of internet pornography. The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2022 (EARN IT Act of 2022) was introduced in the Senate on January 31, 2022, by Senator Graham (R-SC). Co-sponsors of the Earn It Act of 2022 included Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Durban (D-IL), Grassley -IA), Feinstein (D-CA), Cornyn (R-TX), Whitehouse (D-RI), Hawley (R-MO), Hirono (D-HI), Kennedy (R-LA), Casey (D-PA), Blackburn (R-TN), Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Collins (R-ME), Hassan (D-NH), Ernst (R-IA), Warner (D-VA), Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Murkowski (R-AK), Portman (R-OH), Cruz ( R-TX), Rosen (D-NV), Tillis ( R-NC), and Rubio (R- FL). Representatives Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
The EARN IT Act of 2022 proposed to revise “…the federal framework governing the prevention of online sexual exploitation of children.” The bill would have established the National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention. The commission was to develop best practices for interactive computer services providers (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) to prevent, reduce, and respond to the online sexual exploitation of children. Additionally, the proposed bill limited the liability protections of interactive computer service providers with respect to claims alleging violations of child sexual exploitation laws. The bill would have replaced various statutory references to child pornography and material that contains child pornography with child sexual abuse material (CSAM).[iv]
According to Co-sponsor Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee, “The EARN IT Act has the backing of more than 250 groups, survivors, and stakeholders, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Rights4Girls, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, National District Attorneys Association, National Association of Police Organizations, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, International Justice Mission, and Major Cities Chiefs Association.”[v]
Enthusiastic statements of support for the EARN IT Act, made by a surprising number of U.S. Senators, are more encouraging evidence for those engaged in the battle against the “glut of smut” on the Internet. A sample of these public statements of support include the following:[vi]
“There are tens of millions of photos and videos circulating throughout the internet, showing the most heinous acts of sexual abuse and torture of children,” said Senator Graham. “The EARN IT Act removes Section 230 blanket liability protection from service providers in the area of child sexual abuse material on their sites. To all the victim groups and law enforcement entities urging Congress to do something about the scourge of child sexual abuse material and the exploitation of children on the internet: we hear you. The days of children being exploited on the internet and their families being unable to do anything about it are coming to an end.” – Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
“The EARN IT Act is very simply about whether tech companies should be held responsible for their complicity in the sexual abuse and exploitation of children when they refuse to report or remove images of these crimes hosted on their platforms,” said Senator Blumenthal. “… [m]illions of these horrifying images go unidentified and unreported by the tech platforms that host them because there are so few consequences when these companies look the other way. That ends with the EARN IT Act.” - Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
“There’s no reason Big Tech should be given special immunity from laws against child pornography,” said Senator Hawley. “This commonsense bill was approved unanimously in committee last Congress. Big Tech needs to be held responsible for their role in distributing child pornography.” - Senator Josh Hawley – (R-MO)
“The exploitation of children online is beyond abhorrent, and tech companies must step up to combat the prevalent and growing problem of online child abuse,” said Senator Durbin. “The EARN IT Act - targeted, bipartisan legislation that addresses this urgent challenge - was voted unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee last Congress. I am pleased to support this bill again and will work to secure its swift passage.” - Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
“Online child sexual exploitation is an egregious and sickening crime. Unfortunately, the use of online platforms has increased the spread of child sexual abuse materials, with children across the U.S., including in Alaska, being groomed, enticed, exploited, trafficked, and abused through online platforms many Americans use every day. And, despite clear and demonstrated ramifications, online child sexual exploitation has not received a consistent and forceful response from the tech industry,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m glad to join in introducing legislation which will help put law enforcement, tech, and survivors at the same table to determine best methods for addressing online child sexual exploitation.” – Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
“Protecting our kids from sexual predators is something we can all agree on, and it’s long past time tech companies took the scourge of online child sexual exploitation seriously,” said Senator Ernst. “I’m proud to support this bipartisan effort that will help modernize our internet laws to combat the proliferation of child sexual abuse material online and encourage the tech industry to protect children from sexual exploitation on their platforms.” – Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA)
“Companies can’t simply ignore child exploitation on their online platforms,” said Senator Feinstein. “Companies that fail to take the necessary steps to prevent child exploitation shouldn’t be protected from lawsuits. I hope the Senate is able to act promptly to solve this growing problem.” – Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA)
“The online exploitation of children remains a serious and growing problem that must be addressed by Congress and Big Tech cooperatively. The EARN IT Act would set this serious effort in motion. The protection of children from predators, pornographers, and worse demands that we act,” said Senator Hyde-Smith. – Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
“We need to empower law enforcement with the resources they need to crack down on the trafficking and sexual abuse of children,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “As big technology companies evolve, we must make sure to protect our kids, who are too often left vulnerable to exploitation online. I will continue to work across the aisle to pass this legislation and keep children safe.” – Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV)
“No company should ever profit from the exploitation of a child, nor avoid legal responsibility in a court of law,” said Senator Portman. “That is why I am pleased to co-sponsor this important legislation to remove tech companies’ blanket immunity afforded by Section 230 from Federal and State child sexual abuse material laws. This legislation ensures that online platforms will now be treated like everyone else in our efforts to combat child sexual exploitation online.” - Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)
“I’m proud to join my colleagues on this important piece of legislation that would protect children from exploitation and make needed reforms to Section 230,” said Senator Warner. – Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)
“Far too many children across the nation are at risk of exploitation online. In order to strengthen safeguards, we must ensure that our laws keep up with constantly evolving technology,” said Senator Collins. “I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill that would spur tech companies to step up their efforts to protect children.” – Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)
“Technology companies have a responsibility to crack down on child sexual abuse material on their platforms, and we must hold the predators who engage in these horrific crimes accountable,” said Senator Hassan. “This bipartisan bill will pressure tech companies to work to protect children and address these crimes with the seriousness and urgency that they deserve.” - Senator Maggie Hassan ((D-NH).
Although the Act did not pass during the 117th Congress, it is certain to be reintroduced during this year’s 118th Congress. Initiative-taking legislative efforts, like the EARN IT Act, are important. Methods need to change, because experts tell us that pornography is connected to sexual violence and victimization.[vii]
In a presentation made during the 2018 Coalition To End Sexual Exploitation Summit, one nationally recognized therapist expressed, based on her clinical observations over a period of years, her view that a pervasive belief system exists that is a primary causative factor in various forms of sexual abuse and victimization behaviors. That belief is that “women's bodies are pieces of sexual meat that are to be used for male entertainment -- and that belief system is a releaser and a trigger of this kind of behavior…”- “that belief system is taught. Pornography is the best teacher we know - to teach that system, to teach that point of view…”[viii]
In 1885 Henry Parsons Crowell knew it was bad business to sell breakfast oats infested with insects, worms, and vermin. He changed the method of merchandizing, and the problem of insects, worms, and vermin in breakfast oats was gone, “replaced by a colorful sanitary box of oatmeal just the right size for a family supply on the grocer’s shelves.[ix]
Crowell was inspired early during his business career when he heard a man named Moody say, “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to him.”
Crowell took the man at his word. After building his business empire and making it possible for millions to eat oatmeal without “insects, worms, and vermin,” Crowell turned his efforts to combatting prostitution and other corrupt business practices that plagued his community.[x] Henry Parsons Crowell was a person of faith who made a difference.
Today it is bad business for tech companies to provide Internet services “…infested with stomach-churning images of children….”[xi] It is bad business to allow Internet pornography to teach that “women's bodies are pieces of sexual meat that are to be used for male entertainment…” It is time to rid the Internet of its “insects, worms, and vermin.”
Where are the Henry Parson Crowell’s of today?
[i] http://www.giantsforgod.com/henry-parsons-crowell-quaker-oats/#:~:text=An%20idea%20came,worked.%20Demand%20soared. [ii] https://www.blumenthal.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/blumenthal-and-graham-introduce-earn-it-act-to-encourage-tech-industry-to-take-online-child-sexual-exploitation-seriously [iii] https://endsexualexploitation.org/articles/2022-a-year-pornographers-and-traffickers-would-like-to-forget/#:~:text=As%20we%20enter,truly%20excited%20about! [iv] https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/3538?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22EARN+IT+Act%22%2C%22EARN%22%2C%22IT%22%2C%22Act%22%5D%7D&r=3&s=10#:~:text=Eliminating%20Abusive%20and,of%20a%20report. [v] https://www.blackburn.senate.gov/2022/2/blackburn-colleagues-earn-it-act-closer-to-becoming-law#:~:text=The%20EARN%20IT,Cities%20Chiefs%20Association. [vi] https://www.lgraham.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2022/1/graham-blumenthal-introduce-earn-it-act-to-encourage-tech-industry-to-take-online-child-sexual-exploitation-seriously [vii] https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/exploring-connection-between-pornography-and-sexual-violence [viii] https://vimeo.com/268215221 [ix] Musser, J. (1997), Cereal Tycoon: Henry Parsons Crowell The Founder of the Quaker Oats Company, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, p.88. [x] Musser, J. (1997), Cereal Tycoon: Henry Parsons Crowell The Founder of the Quaker Oats Company, Moody Press, Chicago, IL,. p.127. [xi] https://www.blumenthal.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/blumenthal-and-graham-introduce-earn-it-act-to-encourage-tech-industry-to-take-online-child-sexual-exploitation-seriously