In the latest edition of “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” Facebook thought it would be a good idea to send out a survey asking it users whether pedophilia is really such a big deal. Nope, not kidding. This weekend, Facebook ran a survey in the UK asking users their opinions on the platform’s policies. One question read as follows:
“There are a wide range of topics and behaviors that appear on Facebook. In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook’s policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures.”
Guardian writer Jonathan Haynes was not amused, and called Facebook out on its inane survey.
So this popped up on Facebook pic.twitter.com/fL2QKgyr9x
— Jonathan Haynes (@JonathanHaynes) March 4, 2018
And asked this … and I’m like, er wait it making it secret the best Facebook can offer here? Not, y’know, calling the police? pic.twitter.com/t2UZuKalfk
— Jonathan Haynes (@JonathanHaynes) March 4, 2018
Okay, Facebook. Tell me more. In this “ideal world,” where “Terms of Service” apparently stand in for actual laws, will all crimes be scrutinized with such exacting standards, or just those committed against children? The survey-writing idiots hanging out over in Menlo Park should maybe put down their ping pong paddles long enough to learn that we already have a system in which people get together and set standards for how dangerous behavior should be handled. It’s pronounced “legislating.”
There were more questions, too. In the next one, survey participants were asked who should dictate the rules about that same adult man asking that same 14 year-old girl for sexual pictures. The choices were Facebook, Facebook with some help, and Facebook’s users. Conspicuously absent was a choice that read, “sexual exploitation of children is a matter for state and federal law, and I support Facebook’s assisting authorities to the fullest extent of the law in prosecuting known pedophiles.”
Facebook did get its act together once the public went wild about this survey. Guy Rosen, a Facebook vice president, called the surveys “a mistake,” and played it off as an exercise for the company to better “understand how the community thinks about how we set policies.”
We run surveys to understand how the community thinks about how we set policies. But this kind of activity is and will always be completely unacceptable on FB. We regularly work with authorities if identified. It shouldn’t have been part of this survey. That was a mistake.
— Guy Rosen (@guyro) March 4, 2018
Rosen followed up with a statement saying that “this kind of activity is and will always be completely unacceptable on FB,” and pledging that the company will continue its regular work with authorities when appropriate. Facebook later issued a statement saying:
“We have prohibited child grooming on Facebook since our earliest days; we have no intention of changing this and we regularly work with the police to ensure that anyone found acting in such a way is brought to justice.”
The practice of “grooming” children – or otherwise establishing a connection with a child for the ultimate objective of sexual abuse – is not a new thing. It has been illegal since 1921 when the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children addressed the problem. As we progress further into the information age, laws continue to catch up, and generally speaking, solicitation of sexual images from minors is illegal. There, are of course, some nuanced legal issues in play with this topic, such as what to do with the person who solicited sexual pictures from a minor, but who honestly believed that minor was an adult, thus lacking the mens rea required to have violated applicable statutes.
Facebook regularly reports statistics regarding data it shares with law enforcement. Its report for 2017 begins as follows:
Law Enforcement Requests for Data
“We respond to government requests for data in accordance with applicable law and our terms of service. Each and every request we receive is carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency and we may reject or require greater specificity on requests that appear overly broad or vague. During this period, approximately 57% of legal process we received from authorities in the U.S. was accompanied by a non-disclosure order legally prohibiting us from notifying the affected users.”
In other words, Facebook is purely reactive when it comes to potential violations of the law. Yes, of course, Facebook does drop people from its platform when they fail to conform with the terms of service. In other words, Facebook doesn’t actually condone child exploitation – it’s just sort of giving the impression that it does.
Perhaps Facebook could get together with Buzzfeed for its next survey, so that when users answer that they’re cool with exploiting children, they at least get a pop up that says, “Congratulations! You are 98% Pedophile!” They can even share the results on Facebook.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.