Facebook Status: Unfriendly

by Elizabeth Yore

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

~Albert Einstein

 

27 year old Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrived in New York this past week to promote Facebook’s record $10 billion IPO. The Facebook hype on Wall Street is tempered by an investigative report on WND.com which uncovered countless child pornography images lurking in plain sight within the Facebook neighborhood.

The investigation found posted Facebook Groups with the following titles: Kidsex Young, Preteen Lesbians, 10-17 Teen Bisexual, PTHC (or preteen hard-core pornography), 12 to 13 Boy Sex, Young Gay Pics and Movie Trade, Gangbanging, Teen Sex, Love Little Kids, Incest Forever, Men or Baby girls, Sex Little Girls and Nude Teens. Even worse, WND.com also found several graphic photos posted of children being raped and sodomized on Facebook pages.

Amid a huge publicity blitz, Facebook announced last year, a partnership with Microsoft and its state-of-the art PhotoDNA software which is designed to filter out illegal child abuse images.  Facebook even hosted a web conference to detail the wonders of PhotoDNA and assure the public that this technology could block and capture illegal child abuse images before they are even posted on the site.

WND.com determined that the Facebook is serving as a platform for child predators to post and trade child pornography. Despite PhotoDNA, the highly touted Microsoft filtering software, there is an alarming number of Facebook pages and groups that engage in trading and posting child abuse images. These illegal and vile images evaded the PhotoDNA filter and are prominently displayed on various FACEBOOK pages and groups. Not only are the victims in these photos being brutally violated, but each time these photos are traded and shared among pedophiles, the victims are re-victimized. When these crime scene photos go viral, the victim’s suffering is magnified exponentially by cyber trading. Tragically, child pornography images are growing more violent and involving younger and younger victims.

While PhotoDNA is one resource, it is obviously woefully inadequate to address the tsunami of uploaded photos and the huge influx of child sex abuse photos flooding the Internet. On average more than 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook per day in the three months ended March 31, 2012.    Around the world, predators are daily photographing the brutal molestation and rape of children. The Internet enables the instantaneous transmission of new child abuse photos and videos. Trading child abuse images is the commercial product of the multibillion dollar industry of child pornographers.

The WND investigation uncovered countless vile and illegal images, pedophile groups clearly identified in trading child abuse images. If the highly touted software is so cutting edge, so sophisticated, it surely has a gaping hole in its application and implementation. How is it that “KIDSEX Young” was not captured, banned, and filtered out? The vile term is a frequently used search phrase of child predators and known to cyber cops. How is it that clearly child porn photos were posted on Facebook pages and not intercepted by PhotoDNA?

Children are Consumers of Facebook

Child advocates know that predators go where children play, and children are increasingly on Facebook. 20 Million children use Facebook and users are required to be 13 years of age, although age verification is impossible on Facebook.  However, Consumer Reports uncovered in their “State of the Net” survey that 7.5 million users are younger than 13. Even more shocking, 5 million Facebook users are 10 years old and younger. It is terrifying to imagine how many of those children stumbled across the child porn group, “Love Little Kids.”  Millions of child Facebook users are at grave psychological harm if they stumble upon and view these depraved images.  Even worse,  millions of children are also unwittingly at risk to grooming, luring and molestation by these child predator roaming Facebook. Warning parents! This is no Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.

With 901 million (and counting) cyber citizens of Facebook, safety, not entertainment,  should be the primary concern of management.  Ensuring child protection will be the ultimate test of Facebook’s continued success and longevity. If children are at risk on the platform, the users will migrate elsewhere.

Did Facebook grow too fast at the expense of safety and security?

On its corporate website, Facebook touts speed and cutting-edge technology: “We move fast and don’t mess around.  We’re leading a social movement by building ground breaking technology that gives people the power to share and makes the world more open and connected.

Facebook may not “mess around” but its users do. Posting and trading child pornography destroys children, tarnishes the Facebook brand image, and is by the way, illegal. Enabling the creation by child predators of user groups which seek to seduce, exploit, abuse children and trade child abuse images will ultimately cause the downfall of Facebook.

Here is the stark reality: Facebook does not have the resources to quickly intercept all illegal child abuse images, pages, or predator groups. The network relies on users to monitor and report illegal content, with the backup of its PhotoDNA filter and other filters. Both approaches are flawed, creating security gaps on the platform, and leaving children vulnerable to view, to be lured into, and to participate in these groups. Facebook offers a report link so that anyone can report inappropriate, offensive or dangerous content. However, WND found that Facebook did not respond quickly to remove the photos or content.  Community policing is woefully inadequate in the real world, as it is in the cyber world. While encouraging Facebook users to monitor and report child pornography and other inappropriate content may sound empowering, it’s like asking children to monitor the registered sex offenders in the neighborhood.

Can Facebook manage and police the world?

Facebook will soon announce the attainment of the quintessential goal of 1 billion users. However, the lightening speed growth of Facebook is now exposing its fault lines as it struggles to handle the complex world of 901 million users. Facebook needs more technology, apps, resources, to interdict child pornography and shut down child predator user groups. PhotoDNA is only a tool, not a panacea, to fight the tsunami of child pornography. Here’s the troubling reality: Facebook is experiencing the same problems that plague cyber cops who are overwhelmed by the Internet-facilitated child pornography pandemic.  The commerce and user activity on the Facebook platform is staggering in volume and scope:

  • 901 million monthly active users at the end of March 2012.
  • Approximately 80% of monthly active users are outside the U.S. and Canada.
  • 526 million daily active users on average in March 2012.
  • 488 million monthly active users who used Facebook mobile products in March 2012,
  • More than 500 million mobile monthly active users as of April 20, 2012.
  • 398 million users were active with Facebook on at least six out of the last seven days.
  • More than 125 billion friend connections on Facebook at the end of March 2012.
  • More than 42 million Pages with ten or more Likes at the end of March 2012.
  • Facebook is available in more than 70 languages.

The massive Facebook IPO could raise over $11 billion. Financial experts are calling it the largest global internet offering ever. With the shocking abuses exposed by WND,  Facebook needs to commit its new influx of cash to develop technology to a ensure safe social media network for all its users, especially the children.  Let’s be clear, if a neighborhood is not safe because predators roam undetected, and flaunt their illegal activity, then families will move out. People leave in droves, when institutions don’t protect children.

In the mad rush to “grow and grow fast” Facebook has left millions of children vulnerable at the unlocked front door of Facebook. While Facebook prides itself on creating new apps and technology for a more ‘entertaining experience’ for the user, it’s long overdue that Facebook should direct its techies and code writers to create apps and filters that make the Facebook a safer cyber neighborhood for children.

Mark Zuckerberg is found of saying that “if we want to have the biggest impact, the best way to do this is to make sure we always focus on the most important problems.”

Mark, It’s time you focus on safety, and children.

 

© Elizabeth Yore-2012 All Rights Reserved.

Elizabeth Yore served as Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc. Previously, she was General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services  and the General Counsel and Director of the International Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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