Creativity and technology can change the world

I’ve been meaning to write about this campaign for a while now – it’s one of my favourite pieces of work from the last few years.

As quickly as technology and the internet have developed, the one thing that always seems to keep pace with and leverage change is people’s capacity to find heinous uses for it. It’s depressing to think about the grim depths that humanity is capable of plumbing but over the last few years, a new form of child abuse has started to run rampant online: Webcam Child Sex Tourism (WCST). This grim phenomena involves paedophiles co-ercing children in the developing world into performing sex acts in front of web cameras. The Dutch agency Lemz worked with the international children’s organisation Terre des Hommes to raise global awareness about the issue of Webcam Child Sex Tourism (WCST), track down these predators and rescue the kids.

Rather than a traditional ad campaign that could be easily ignored or a new form of internet security that could be bypassed, they created something that brought the paedophiles running to them: a 10 year old Filipino girl named Sweetie, who popped up online and made herself available for ‘chat’. Sweetie looked and moved like any other cute little kid and as soon as she went online, the predators flocked to her. What they didn’t know was that ‘Sweetie’ wasn’t a real girl sitting in front of a computer in the Philippines – she was an amazingly lifelike interactive 3D model created and controlled by Lemz/Terre des Hommes from a warehouse in Holland. While ‘she’ engaged the paedophiles in chat, Terre des Hommes traced their location to an exact address, recorded any personal details they could get and took videos of them.

Using Sweetie, Terre des Hommes were able to catch 1,000 online predators from 71 countries in the act. Their identities were handed over to Interpol for investigation. A film was made about the process and posted online – it currently has almost five million views. Sweetie was covered on news channels around the world and Terre des Hommes estimate the campaign has been seen by a billion people.

Although the Sweetie campaign is far broader in its reach and aims, the ‘honeytrap’ nature of the idea reminds me of the ingenious police operation to catch criminals in North London a few years ago (which was one of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written). Like that idea, there are ethical grey areas around privacy and entrapment but I’d argue those moral dilemmas mean nothing in the face of such fucked up evil. The work has pushed the issue of Webcam Child Sex Tourism onto the international agenda, with law enforcement agencies, global organisations and governments debating it and considering various changes in global laws to enable more prosecutions and child rescues. And while the issue is depressing and heart-breaking, this campaign is ultimately a brilliant example of the seamless blend of creativity and technology making the world a better place.


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

2 Responses to Creativity and technology can change the world

  1. Rob Hatfield says:

    The irony of all this is that there would be no need for technology to solve problems like these if it weren’t for the technology itself.

  2. antmelder says:

    Very true Rob. But I think, on balance, technology has delivered far more pros than cons. Without it, we’d be screwed. Slight tangent, but your comment made me think of the Doctor Who episode where the Doctor went back in time to before the Daleks were created and had the chance to change things so that they’d never exist. But he declined to do it saying that he believed more good: “Although the Daleks will create havoc and destruction for millions of years, I know also that out of their evil must come something good.”

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