You’d never know from the front page of the Russian website iMGSRC that, within its depths, dozens of users are sharing photos of children in various states of undress.
The comments sections underneath those photo galleries are full of other users, all anonymized, weighing in with correspondingly disturbing remarks.
It’s this website where US Army Staff Sgt. Richard Ciccarella is said to have uploaded topless pictures of a young female relative. Ciccarella pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to federal investigators about an email address for a Russian website; according to Assistant US Attorney Gregory Schiller, the photos didn’t constitute child pornography.
Instead, he’s being charged with making a false statement to a federal agent.
“The lie and the obstruction was to cover up an email address to cover up a much bigger investigation that was going on,” Schiller said, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post.
From August 2017 to March 2018, Ciccarella was assigned to the US Army communications detail at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. It was during this period that he is accused of uploading the photos of an underage girl, said to be his relative — one such photo showed an underage girl in underwear next to a Christmas tree, the Miami Herald reported, with the caption, “dirty comments [sic] welcome.”
A closer look at the website reveals a much deeper issue: The site is rife with users sharing photos of children in various states of dress, often paired with explicit or suggestive sexual statements.
Like 4chan and 8chan, iMGSRC is an “image board” — an anonymized web forum that allows users to host photos and comment on them. As of September 28, it boasted 1,168,898 registered users. Many of those users upload relatively banal images, like animal and travel photos. Indeed, much of the front page of iMGSRC features photos of cute animals.
But, also like 4chan and 8chan, much of that content seemingly isn’t being moderated: We found example after example of users sharing photos albums of children. Some of those photos feature children in their underwear or various states of undress. In every case, those photos were paired with sexual comments from the original uploaded and other users.
The FAQ of iMGSRC addresses the moderation question directly: “We can not be held responsible for what user post on site,” it says, “But we do take care to keep host as clean as possible.” It also specifically states, “ABSOLUTELY NO CHILD PORN, no child abusive pics and NO child abusive comments! Your account will be banned permanently.”
Terms of service aside, it’s clear from a brief look around the site that those rules are loose at best. Many of the photos are unlikely to be legally considered “pornography,” similar to the ruling with Ciccarella, as the children aren’t fully nude.
iMGSRC has gained a reputation in the criminal community for hosting such material. In 2014 a US District Court of Kansas ruling recognized that the site was frequently used to host and trade child pornography. The website has been used in other countries to identify uploaders of illicit pictures of minors as well.
Representatives from iMGSRC did not respond to a request for comment as of publishing.