Facebook failing to catch sexual exploitation on its platform

Tech Transparency Project | March 3, 2020


Facebook says it doesn’t tolerate child exploitation on its platform. But federal criminal cases show pedophiles have inundated the social network for years.


Facebook has been widely used by predators to sexually abuse children, according to a new analysis by the Tech Transparency Project, which found hundreds of U.S. cases in which suspected pedophiles used the social network to groom minors and trade images of their sexual abuse.


Following repeated pleas from abuse survivors and their parents, the company has promised to prevent its platform from being used by criminals who target children. “Child exploitation is one of the most serious threats that we focus on,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers in October 2019. “We build sophisticated systems to find this behavior.”


However, the review showed that Facebook’s systems are failing to eliminate such abuse. Using a customized code, TTP scanned the text of announcements on the Justice Department’s U.S. Attorneys website and collected any that mentioned Facebook. Analysts then identified 366 individual criminal cases involving alleged predators who used the social network for child exploitation, including distributing sexual abuse images, recruiting children and sex trafficking.


In the vast majority of these cases, Facebook didn’t provide the initial tip-off to authorities. Instead, officials said they relied on information from the public, leads from other investigations or sting operations to identify suspects.


The cases detailed by the Justice Department took place across the country. They include a Kentucky man accused of sending thousands of messages to multiple children through Facebook; a Rhode Island man who allegedly posed as a teenage girl to lure boys into livestreaming sexual activity on Facebook Messenger; and a convicted Missouri sex offender who allegedly used Facebook Messenger to communicate with a 13-year-old girl.


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Get the full report here.

Open letter to Facebook from the DOJ