Facebook and Instagram content enabled child sexual abuse, trafficking: New Mexico lawsuit

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Facebook co-founder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg sits in his seat inside a bipartisan Artificial Intelligence Insight Forum for all U.S. senators hosted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13, 2023.
Leah Millis | Reuters

Facebook and Instagram created “prime locations” for sexual predators that enabled child sexual abuse, solicitation, and trafficking, New Mexico’s attorney general alleged in a civil suit filed Wednesday against Meta and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The suit was brought after an “undercover investigation” allegedly revealed myriad instances of sexually explicit content being served to minors, child sexual coercion, or the sale of child sexual abuse material, or CSAM, New Mexico attorney general Raúl Torrez said in a press release.

The suit alleges that “certain child exploitative content” is ten times “more prevalent” on Facebook and Instagram as compared to pornography site PornHub and adult content platform OnlyFans, according to the release.

“Child exploitation is a horrific crime and online predators are determined criminals,” Meta said in a statement to CNBC. A spokesperson said that 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.”

The New Mexico suit follows coordinated legal actions against Meta by 42 other attorneys general in October. Those actions alleged that Facebook and Instagram directly targeted and were addictive to children and teens.

New Mexico’s suit, by contrast, alleges Meta and Zuckerberg violated the state’s Unfair Practice Act. The four-count suit alleges that the company and Zuckerberg engaged in “unfair trade practices” by facilitating the distribution of CSAM and the trafficking of minors, and undermined the health and safety of New Mexican children.

The lawsuit argues that Meta’s algorithms allegedly promote sex and exploitation content to users and that Facebook and Instagram lack “effective” age verification. The suit also alleges that the company failed to identify child sexual exploitation “networks” and to fully prevent users it had suspended for those violations from rejoining the platform using new accounts

“In one month alone, we disabled more than half a million accounts for violating our child safety policies,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.

“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 in the release.

New Mexico seeks civil penalties and for Meta to implement effective age verification, improve its detection and removal systems for CSAM, and address the alleged functionalities that “amplify” CSAM.

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