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Meta Is Facing Serious Allegations of Enabling Child Trafficking and Abuse

Meta Is Facing Serious Allegations of Enabling Child Trafficking and Abuse

A new lawsuit filed against Meta claims that Facebook and Instagram enabled sexual predators by creating “prime locations” for child sexual abuse, solicitation and trafficking.

The catalyst for the lawsuit, filed by New Mexico’s attorney general Raúl Torrez, was an eye-opening “undercover investigation.” Torrez alleges the investigation found an array of transgressions: minors being bombarded with sexually explicit content, instances of child sexual coercion, and even the horrifying sale of child sexual abuse material, commonly referred to as CSAM.

The suit also alleges that the presence of “certain child exploitative content” is ten times more common on Facebook and Instagram than on sites known for adult content, like PornHub and OnlyFans. For the investigation, the attorney general’s office created multiple Instagram accounts registered to minors as young as 12. The accounts had the ability to search for and access explicit “sexual or self-harm content,” including “soft-core pornography,” the lawsuit alleges.

Meta’s response to the accusations has been to highlight their ongoing efforts in this digital battleground.

“Child exploitation is a horrific crime and online predators are determined criminals,” a spokesperson for Meta said to CNBC. “[The company deploys] sophisticated technology, hire child safety experts, report content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and share information and tools with other companies and law enforcement, including state attorneys general, to help root out predators.”

This lawsuit isn’t Meta’s first encounter with legal scrutiny this year. In October, coordinated legal actions by 42 attorneys general accused Facebook and Instagram of targeting and addicting children and teens. However, the New Mexico suit strikes a different chord, accusing Meta and CEO Mark Zuckerberg of violating the state’s Unfair Practice Act through “unfair trade practices.” These include allegedly enabling the distribution of CSAM, facilitating the trafficking of minors, and compromising the health and safety of New Mexican children.

Central to the lawsuit’s argument is the allegation that Meta’s algorithms are inadvertently promoting content related to sex and exploitation and that Facebook and Instagram are lacking robust age verification processes. The suit also points to Meta’s failure in dismantling child sexual exploitation networks and in permanently blocking users previously suspended for such violations.

However, Meta claims to have disabled over half a million accounts for violating child safety policies. In a blog posted on Dec. 1, the company wrote that it has launched technology to proactively detect and disable accounts exhibiting suspicious behaviors,. Additionally, it formed a Child Safety Task Force to improve its policies and practices around keeping young users safe. Meta also says it offers roughly 30 safety and well-being tools to protect teens’ mental health, including the ability to set screen-time limits and the option to remove like counts from posts.

Torres, though, remains skeptical.

“Mr. Zuckerberg and other Meta executives are aware of the serious harm their products can pose to young users, and yet they have failed to make sufficient changes to their platforms that would prevent the sexual exploitation of children,” Torres said.

The lawsuit is seeking not only civil penalties but also demands Meta to implement more effective age verification, enhance its detection and removal systems for CSAM, and address the alleged functionalities that “amplify CSAM.”

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