Thursday 23 November 2017

Facebook under fire over sexualised images of children

Stock photo: Getty
Stock photo: Getty

Sam Blewett and Sally Wardle

Facebook has come under fire after it allegedly failed to remove sexualised photographs of children and reported journalists to police after they flagged the explicit content.

Images of under-16s in provocative poses, pages aimed at paedophiles and a still which appeared to have been taken from a child abuse video were among the items reported to the social media giant by the BBC.

The broadcaster said 82 of the 100 images it flagged using the website's "report button" were not removed, with an automated message saying they did not breach "community standards".

Journalists were reported to police when examples of the content were sent to Facebook, the BBC said.

A spokeswoman for Facebook said: "It is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation."

According to the site's community standards, "sexually suggestive content" is not permitted and users are encouraged to flag inappropriate posts using the report link.

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, said the revelations are "deeply disappointing and deeply disturbing".

She added: "I find it hard to believe that individuals at Facebook had seen these images and made a decision that they were okay and hadn't breached their community rules.

"They were very explicit, they were very sexualised photos of children and some of them clearly had been taken without the children knowing."

She called for "greater transparency" from Facebook about the number of reports it receives and the way complaints are handled.

"If it is automated they need to stop automating and improve their process," she said.

"If they are making judgment calls on that, then there are serious errors in that judgment."

Damian Collins, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said he had "grave doubts" about Facebook's ability to moderate content.

"I find it very disturbing, I find that content unacceptable," he said.

"I think it raises the question of how can users make effective complaints to Facebook about content that is disturbing, shouldn't be on the site, and have confidence that that will be acted upon."

The National Crime Agency, which runs the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), said it is "vital" social media platforms report and remove indecent content.

"We are alive to the threat of those with a sexual interest in children seeking to exploit online services including social media for their own ends," a spokeswoman said.

"It is vital that social media platforms have robust procedures in place to guard against indecent content, and that they report and remove any indecent content if identified.

"Social media platforms should also provide easy to use and accessible reporting mechanisms for their users."

A spokeswoman for Facebook said: "We have carefully reviewed the content referred to us and have now removed all items that were illegal or against our standards. This content is no longer on our platform.

"We take this matter extremely seriously and we continue to improve our reporting and take-down measures. Facebook has been recognised as one of the best platforms on the internet for child safety.

"It is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation. When the BBC sent us such images we followed our industry's standard practice and reported them to the CEOP.

"We also reported the child exploitation images that had been shared on our own platform. This matter is now in the hands of the authorities."

Press Association

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