As a survivor of child trafficking and an advocate with GEMS Council of Daughters and Polaris Project Legislative Circle David Zimmerman discusses the disturbing issue of child sex abuse images on Facebook.
Are there images of child sex abuse on Facebook?
Yes. Although I have not seen them myself, I am aware of the issue. As a survivor of child sexual abuse and child sexual abuse images, I use Facebook with caution and don’t go far beyond a specific circle of friends and acquaintances. As an advocate, I have sought to raise awareness of Facebook as a haven for predators by hosting an information night at a local high school. I have also shared reports from investigations into Facebook’s problems with other advocates and survivors of trauma.
Have you seen evidence of profiles being used for human trafficking on Facebook?
Yes, both profiles and pages for public viewing. A current investigation by international law enforcement agencies is the most recent case in point. I’m not able to disclose details for the safety of the victim. There have been other times when users came to my attention and some form of exploitation was suspected, but not enough evidence was presented to warrant notifying either Facebook or law enforcement.
Can you tell me what steps you take when you identify a child sex abuse image or a profile that appears to be trafficking in people?
I personally do not entrust Facebook to properly notify the necessary agencies when an image or profile is suspect. This is due to experiences with Facebook’s very poor responses to user content. If and when an image presents, my response would be to file a report with the FBI or ICE. Images of sexual exploitation of children are such a pervasive and devastating crime, and it is necessary to ensure proper investigative agencies are notified. The safety and well-being of exploited children is paramount, however when images are shared, it often takes a thorough investigation before the victims are actually rescued. Any delay in response or complete lack of response may severely endanger the lives of children. Regarding the use of profiles for trafficking, the situation becomes even more severe because it is more than images being shared by the perpetrator who takes the pictures. Online trafficking can result in victims being sexually assaulted by an untold number of perpetrators, and traffickers frequently change locations to avoid detection. Due to the relative anonymity of online connections, traffickers can control profiles that appear to be operated by willing participants.
How do you feel Facebook is dealing with this issue?
Considering the popularity of Facebook and the number of young users or subjects of photography who may in fact be victims of exploitation, I am deeply displeased with the response. I see repeated blurbs offered up to appease those of us who are calling for more action, but no legitimate follow through. This makes me wary of Facebook’s intentions and stirs my desire to see either an investigation or an overhaul. What Facebook is doing is equivalent to obstruction of justice.
What could Facebook do differently?
Facebook could start by including better options for reporting violations of policy and criminal activity. There could be direct links to appropriate agencies for the range of crimes committed online, from child sexual abuse images and trafficking to cyber stalking and bullying. Facebook could employ a moderator system that allows faster detection and timely responses. There could be an active law enforcement presence working in conjunction with administration. There should also be advertisements featuring law enforcement, crisis center and other victim service contact information that are regularly and clearly shown, such as the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline. There could be restrictions to content that is viewable based on age and better age verification. I personally disapprove of children using Facebook, yet it is incredibly common, and needs to be addressed. There could also be better attempts at transparency with Facebook administration hosting interactive “town hall” type meetings or similar ways for users to express concerns in real time.
What do you think should be done about this?
Like many other social networking sites, Facebook wants to provide people of various ages with the joy and freedom of user generated content. I believe Facebook understands that freedom comes with a great deal of responsibility, yet there’s a huge difference between understanding responsibilities and acting on them. The Internet has created an alternate universe, which is inextricably tied to the one we live in physically. Facebook can be an extension of our lives, and when our lives become a source of suffering inflicted purposely on others, Facebook absolutely cannot sit idle while making promises of compliance. Facebook should step up and be a leader in how technology is used to improve the human experience, rather than being an accomplice in our destruction.
- David Zimmerman’s interview for Human Trafficking Awareness Month can be read here.
- Survivor, advocate and activist Michelle Carmela‘s interview about the issue of child sex abuse images on Facebook can be read here.
- Global VP of Security Research at Trend Micro Rik Ferguson’s interview about the issue of child sex abuse images on Facebook can be read here.
- Author, feminist and co-founder of Rapebook Trista Hendren’s interview about the issue of child sex abuse images on Facebook can be read here.
To report images of child sex abuse or suspected child trafficking, Rik Ferguson, Global VP of Security Research at Trend Micro, recommends people in the UK contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and if you are in the US, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).