A 16-year-old boy was arrested Friday on suspicion of distributing nude photos of four teenage girls through Twitter, San Bernardino County sheriff's officials said.
The boy, a student at Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga, was booked into juvenile hall on suspicion of distributing obscene matter depicting a minor engaging in or simulating sexual conduct.
Sheriff's department officials said two of the girls in the photos sent him nude photos of themselves through text message. The boy got the other two photos through other means, Sgt. Mike Kleczko said.
Police gathered evidence by serving a search warrant to Twitter and analyzing the boy's account, his computer and his cellphone, police said.
The two girls who sent the boy their photos were cited for misdemeanor distribution of obscene matter. Even though the photos the girls sent were of themselves, it's a crime because they are minors, according to police.
The 15- and 16-year-old girls are students at Rancho Cucamonga High School, police said.
When asked how many people may have viewed the photographs, Kleczko was at a loss.
"No idea," he said. "How many people are on Twitter? You have to figure out how many followers he has, how many they have…probably thousands."
The case is emblematic of a growing problem, authorities say.
About a year ago, as many as four teenage boys who were friends and played on a high school sports team were arrested in the San Fernando Valley on suspicion of selling digital albums with images of naked juvenile girls, said Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Andrea Grossman, commander of the regional Internet Crimes Against Children task force.
In 2008, the task force received about 500 cyber tips about possible crimes against children; last year that number grew to about 3,700, with a sizable spike in "sexting cases," she said.
Grossman, a 24-year veteran of the LAPD, said the girls who take the photos rarely seem to grasp the consequences of their actions. Most of the girls in question Grossman said, are 13, 14 and 15 years old.
"They don't seem to understand the big picture, that once it's on the Internet, it's on the Internet, and it could be there for life," Grossman said. "There's 6th and 7th graders doing this."
Grossman said the problem transcends class: Many of the cases that come before the task force's attention involve private schools and public schools in well-off areas.
"It's everywhere," she said.