The challenge of change

IWF Hotline Director, Chris Hughes

Chris Hughes Hotline Director


I’m probably not alone in thinking that 2023 threw us all a few curve balls. Certainly that was true for the Internet Content Analysts and Assessors working in the Hotline.   

On 24 May 2023, literally overnight, the rules of engagement changed when a member of the team uncovered a curated collection of criminal AI images of child sexual abuse. In that moment we were unwillingly inducted into a new reality.  

Within six months of that initial discovery, tens of thousands of AI images were being uncovered by the team; lifting the lid of the fabled Pandora’s box opened an entirely new and permanent battle front that we must all now turn to meet head on.    

The Hotline continues to embrace and use new technology to assist us in our work. In the coming years AI itself may be used to mitigate the very real harms that AI child sexual abuse material presents - fighting fire with fire.   

There is no doubt that tackling the misuse of AI across its multiple modes will make an already difficult job that much harder; if we add into the mix the increased deployment of End-to-End Encryption (E2EE), there is no doubt that protecting children and their privacy rights just became a whole lot harder.   

All things considered, I’m an optimist at heart and the single biggest comfort that I hold onto as one year closes and another opens, is that our work is overseen by intelligent, dedicated, and diligent human beings, driven by a common mission.  

My team see, hear, experience, and understand first-hand the damage that the production and distribution of child abuse images causes, regardless of how the images are created. That true understanding and empathy is what sets us apart from the ‘machines’.  

The statistics and insights that are highlighted in this report show how the great work has been undertaken within the IWF and we face 2024 with a ‘move on up’ attitude that will see us ultimately prevail in our mission to make the internet free from child sexual abuse, in spite of the new and emerging obstacles that we have to overcome.