Facebook called the cops on journalists who found indecent images of children on the site
Facebook is facing a deluge of criticism from both politicians and children’s charities in the UK for its failure to remove sexualized images of children from its platform after a BBC investigation flagged them, and then for reporting BBC journalists to police for having done so.
The fallout follows the BBC’s latest discoveries in its ongoing investigation into the efficacy of the social media platform’s moderation systems, after its reporters last year unearthed private groups on the site where paedophiles were sharing indecent images of children.
In an effort to test Facebook’s “improved” reporting system, BBC reporters flagged 100 images that it believed broke Facebook’s own guidelines. In one instance, the BBC uncovered an image thought to be a still from a video of child abuse, below which was a request to share “child pornography.” Yet of the 100 reported images, Facebook removed only 18 according to the BBC, and those removed did not include the still image in question.
“I find it very disturbing, I find that content unacceptable,” MP Damian Collins, the chairman of the Commons media committee, told the BBC. “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.”
Yet when BBC reached out to Facebook for comment on their discoveries, the social network reported the broadcaster to the police for distributing indecent images.
Facebook said it would provide its U.K. policy director Simon Milner for an interview on the investigation on the condition that the BBC provided examples of the images it had flagged. When those images were sent, Facebook reported the BBC to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. Facebook also reneged on its promise to put Milner up for interview.
Facebook stood by their actions Tuesday. “It is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation,” Facebook’s U.K. policy director Simon Milner told VICE News in an emailed statement.
At FB's request we sent them images we had reported, which weren't taken down by FB moderators. FB then reported us to the police.
— Angus Crawford (@AngusCrawfordR4) March 7, 2017
“We have carefully reviewed the content referred to us and have now removed all items that were illegal or against our standards,” Milner said. “This content is no longer on our platform.” When asked to clarify whether that meant it had still only removed 18 of the images, Facebook did not immediately provide an answer.
The CEO of NetClean, a company which builds tools to detect child abuse images online told VICE News: “Of all the social media platforms, Facebook is probably the one that does the most in tackling the spread of child sexual abuse material. When they, despite all their resources and efforts to keep their network clean, are struggling, that gives a perspective of how complicated this problem is.”
— Nigel Huddleston MP (@HuddlestonNigel) March 7, 2017
Collins said that Facebook’s decision to refer the BBC to the police was “extraordinary,” because the broadcaster was “trying to help them clean up their network, from material that shouldn’t be there.”
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, added her concerns: “I have been very disturbed by what I have seen, very disappointed that one year on we are still seeing images that are very sexualised, totally in my view unacceptable.”
“The moderation clearly isn’t being effective, I would question whether humans are moderating this, are looking at this, and also I think it is failing to take account of the context of these images,” Longfield added.
Re BBC/Facebook story: Not surprised Facebook reported the BBC for sending images of child sexual abuse. Very surprised the BBC sent them.
— Jonathan Haynes (@JonathanHaynes) March 7, 2017
The National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) called Facebook’s failure to remove illegal content from its website “appalling,” saying it “violates the agreements they have in place to protect children.”
The U.K.’s National Crime Agency has not said if an investigation has been opened or not.
Cover: Associated Press