In the ultra-public social-media world, anything goes on Twitter — crude humor, outrageous jokes and yes, even pornography.
But investigators believe a Miami-Dade firefighter with a penchant for sharing X-rated photos may have crossed the line when he posted seven images of naked underage girls, two of them engaged in sex.
Is he a child pornographer? For now, Gabriel Diaz has been reassigned to desk duty as Miami-Dade police investigate him on allegations of transmitting and possessing child pornography.
His lawyer insists the longtime firefighter was just sharing adult content with buddies on Twitter, and never realized the images could possibly portray girls between the ages of 14 and 17.
“There is no evidence he was searching for child porn, looking for it, requesting it, chatting about it,” said his attorney, Gus Lage. “There was nothing about the images that would lead anyone to think the women were underage.”
Diaz, 38, has not been charged as detectives conduct a forensic examination of computers, phones, cameras and tablets seized from his house. His county work computer, which was believed to have been used to transmit images, was also seized.
The investigation into underage pornography uploaded on Twitter is a first in Miami-Dade, and underscores the ease with which racy and sometimes illegal content can be shared in the digital age.
“It’s partly a broadcasting and publishing platform, so it feels like it’s very conversational and can be very raunchy,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet Project. “And it’s so easy to replicate and pass along images. Cutting and pasting images takes place in a matter of milliseconds.”
Child-porn cases, of course, are not new, but usually they are associated with websites, email and programs that allow users to share files directly with other users.
Social media sites such as YouTube and Facebook prohibit lewd adult images. But Twitter, which allows users to post photos and micro-blog messages of up to 140 characters, does not ban pornographic content.
Most profiles are open for all to see, although users can restrict their “timelines” so that only their approved followers can see them.
Richard Brown, a law enforcement liaison with the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the very open nature of Twitter makes child exploitation cases rare on the site.
“It is so public. When you have a Twitter account, you have people who are following you and usually, people sharing this material try to do it person to person,” Brown said.
But the website says it has become increasingly vigilant about scrutinizing images that feature exploited children.
In November 2012, Twitter partnered with a group of tech companies looking to thwart the spread of child pornography. It also urges users to report illegal images to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In October, Twitter began using PhotoDNA, a program developed by Microsoft and also employed by Facebook, which scans images, searching for known child pornography.
The company suspends users suspected of uploading child porn, while reporting them to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
In Diaz’s case, the center got a cybertip from Twitter, which was then forwarded to Miami-Dade police.
The Twitter account was not created in Diaz’s name, but under the moniker ot_a_ku2.
Detectives found 262 images uploaded on the Twitter account. Many of the explicit photos were “age difficult,” meaning detectives could not determine the age of the females in the photos. In some cases, the poses or actions in the images were not explicit.
“Many of the images depicted females that in my training were possibly under eighteen years of age,” Miami-Dade Detective Jose Cabado wrote in his search warrant.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children analyzed the photos and confirmed that at least seven portrayed “child victims’ who had been previously been identified by law enforcement. Of those, only two of the images showed what could be considered “sexual conduct” under Florida law, the detective concluded.
According to a search warrant filed in Miami-Dade circuit court, investigators traced the computer used to Diaz’s West Kendall home.
Detectives must now sift through the data on his computers and electronics to see if they contain any illegal images.
Diaz has been a Miami-Dade firefighter since 1996. His lawyer, Lage, insists he has done nothing wrong.
“He served as a firefighter with distinction, never had a problem,” Lage said. “He’s got two kids, a girlfriend, a normal every day life.”