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The US state of New Mexico has accused Meta of serving underage users sexually explicit content, allowing them to be contacted by child predators and facilitating the sharing and selling of child pornography, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.
In the civil complaint filed against Meta and its chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, the state’s attorney-general said it had carried out an undercover investigation of the group’s Facebook, Instagram and Messenger platforms over several months, by creating “decoy accounts” of children aged 14 and under.
Investigators found the Silicon Valley company failed to remove child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from across its platforms, while explicit content was served to children even when they had not shown any interest in it, according to the attorney-general’s office.
The platform also failed to prevent dozens of adults from asking or pressuring children into participating in pornographic videos and also recommended children join unmoderated Facebook groups “devoted to facilitating commercial sex”, the attorney-general’s office alleged in a press release.
The lawsuit is seeking civil penalties as well as an order compelling Meta to implement adequate age verification tools and improve its detection of CSAM and grooming.
“A handful of investigators have done what Meta, with its staff of roughly 86,000, apparently will not: identify vast networks of [Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children] on Meta’s platforms and identify some of the ways in which the functions and failures of Meta’s platforms enable and spread this activity,” the complaint alleged.
The New Mexico attorney-general’s office claimed sexually explicit images of underage individuals were shown to its decoy account users on Instagram, as well as multiple sexualised images of minors on Meta’s new rival to X, Threads.
Meta said in a statement: “Child exploitation is a horrific crime and online predators are determined criminals. We use 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. In one month alone, we disabled more than half a million accounts for violating our child safety policies.”
The lawsuit comes amid growing bipartisan concerns over the safety of teens and younger users on social media. Most recently, Meta was singled out by a Wall Street Journal investigation that found that its algorithms facilitated the creation of a network buying and selling underage sex content.
Zuckerberg is set to appear at a Senate judiciary committee hearing in January on child safety online, alongside X’s chief executive Linda Yaccarino, Snap’s Evan Spiegel and TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew.
“Our investigation into Meta’s social media platforms demonstrates that they are not safe spaces for children but rather prime locations for predators to trade child pornography and solicit minors for sex,” New Mexico attorney-general Raúl Torrez said in a statement.
He added that Zuckerberg and other Meta executives were “aware of the serious harm their products can pose to young users” but chose to prioritise “engagement and ad revenue” over child safety despite making assurances otherwise to Congress and users.
In October, nearly three dozen states sued Meta alleging the platform deliberately deployed manipulative and addictive features in order to hook younger users in their hunt for profit and was dishonest about its harms.
New Mexico said its investigation found that certain child exploitative content was more than 10 times more prevalent on Facebook and Instagram than adult websites such as Pornhub and OnlyFans.
Source: Financial Times