Facebook has known it has a human trafficking problem for years. It still hasn't fixed it

October 21, 2021

Facebook has for years struggled to crack down on content related to what it calls domestic servitude: "a form of trafficking of people for the purpose of working inside private homes through the use of force, fraud, coercion or deception," according to internal Facebook documents reviewed by CNN.

The company has known about human traffickers using its platforms in this way since at least 2018, the documents show. It got so bad that in 2019, Apple (AAPL) threatened to pull Facebook and Instagram's access to the App Store, a platform the social media giant relies on to reach hundreds of millions of users each year. Internally, Facebook (FB) employees rushed to take down problematic content and make emergency policy changes to avoid what they described as a "potentially severe" consequence for the business.

In October 2021, using search terms listed in Facebook's internal research on the subject, CNN located active Instagram accounts purporting to offer domestic workers for sale, similar to accounts that Facebook researchers had flagged and removed. Facebook removed the accounts and posts after CNN asked about them, and spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed that they violated its policies.

In March 2018, Facebook workers assigned to the Middle East and North Africa market flagged reports of Instagram profiles dedicated to selling domestic laborers, internal documents show. At the time, these reports "were not actioned as our policies did not acknowledge the violation," a September 2019 internal report on domestic servitude content states.

Stone, the Facebook spokesperson, said the company did have a policy prohibiting human exploitation abuses at the time. "We have had such a policy for a long time. It was strengthened after that point," he added.

Internal Facebook documents show that Facebook launched an expanded "Human Exploitation Policy" on May 29, 2019 that included a prohibition on domestic servitude content related to recruitment, facilitation and exploitation.

Ongoing challenges

More recent documents show that despite efforts Facebook took to remove such content immediately and in the weeks and months following the Apple threat, it has still struggled to regulate domestic servitude content.

A report distributed internally in January 2020 found that "our platform enables all three stages of the human exploitation lifecycle (recruitment, facilitation, exploitation) via complex real-world networks," and identified some commonly-used naming conventions for domestic servitude accounts to help with detection. Traffickers from labor "recruitment agencies" used "FB profiles, IG Profiles, Pages, Messenger and WhatsApp to exchange victims' documentation ... promote the victims for sale, and arrange buying, selling and other fees," the document said of one trafficking network the company identified.

In a February 2021 report, researchers found that often labor recruitment agencies communicated with victims via direct messages but rarely posted post public content violations, making them difficult to detect. The report also said Facebook lacks "robust proactive detection methods ... of Domestic Servitude in English and Tagalog to prevent recruitment," although the Philippines is a top source country for victims, and that it didn't have detection capabilities turned on for Facebook stories. The report laid out plans for a preventative educational campaign for workers, and said researchers identified at least 1.7 million users who could benefit from information about workers' rights.

And why isn’t Facebook tackling CSAM

And why isn’t Facebook tackling CSAM, child sexual abuse material, rampant on its platform? And why are they not taking harsher action on preventing labor and human trafficking? We must be vocal and demand that Big Tech step up and stop hiding behind Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The Internet was born in the 1990s for the public but so much has changed since then. We must rally for CDA Section 230 reform in 2021-2022. Why should Facebook, and all Big Tech platforms, hide behind blanket statutory immunity, from a bygone age, granted with respect to third-party content? We need to clean up and end once and for all these exploitation crimes happening on Facebook and all platforms. Can you imagine the virtual sexual exploitation of our children that will undoubtedly take place? It will further normalize the current trend of sexualizing our children. The predators are winning and we cannot allow this. Big Tech is profiting and we cannot allow this. The recently released Facebook Files revealed that the company put profit over the safety of our children. The danger to children is that the Metaverse is portrayed in popular media as a fully immersive online realm that looks similar to the real world but is computer generated.


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