Facebook - A hidden marketplace for child sexual abuse

Facebook – A hidden marketplace for sexual abuse

It only takes a few clicks to access child sexual abuse material via open groups on Facebook. It happens openly, not on the Darknet, and is not difficult to find for anyone with a sexual interest in children. We have made a random sample and so far only scratched the surface, but what we have seen gives an indication of what can be found in the closed groups and encrypted platforms.

Social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have become an integral part of our society. They offer us the opportunity to communicate, share information and create communities in a way that was previously unthinkable. But with this power also comes a responsibility to ensure that these platforms are not abused or used to spread harmful or illegal content.

A sample that raises concerns.

The amount of child abuse committed, shared and disseminated on both the open and encrypted parts of the internet has exploded in recent decades. Against this backdrop, we took a sample to see how accessible child abuse material is on the world’s largest social network – Facebook. What we quickly found is that it is very easy to find open groups with images, videos and comments that clearly sexualize children, both through undressed and challenging poses and sexualized comments from friend profiles held by older men.

We have only scratched the surface, but we quickly found that these groups are being used to share links to encrypted chats such as Telegram, WhatsApp and others where abusive material is available. All the groups we have looked at refer to closed chats or encrypted platforms that are described in more or less explicit terms as containing abusive material. These groups are not limited to a few members, but have a significant presence on the platform and are growing extremely fast.

One of the groups we found has around 80,000 members and is growing by several hundred per hour. We also see how the number of interactions with posts in these groups increases in relation to how sexualized the child is portrayed. It is seemingly ordinary people with open profiles and without fake accounts who interact. Some profiles are clearly open about their sexual interest in children and share posts and pages with similar content themselves. We also note that the fake profile we used, despite not interacting or “liking” these groups, is quickly recommended to similar groups by Facebook’s algorithms.

It is deeply concerning that social platforms such as Facebook, despite their active efforts to systematically detect and remove abusive material, can serve as billboards for the distribution of child sexual abuse. These groups and links risk normalizing the behaviour, lowering the threshold for people with sexual interests in children to act out and enabling contact between potential perpetrators and children.

Potential perpetrators exist where the children are.

It is important to emphasize that these activities do not take place on some dark, anonymous part of the internet, but on a platform used by billions of adults and children worldwide. In other words, no Darknet, VPN or similar tools are required to share or access the material. Potential perpetrators will always be on the open social platforms because this is where children are. They demonstrate time and time again their ability to use technology to their advantage by bypassing the filters and security systems designed to protect children. Therefore, it is crucial that the companies behind the social platforms take their responsibility. We have so far relied on their voluntary actions to detect and prevent abuse. This sample shows that this is not enough

Britta Holmberg, Deputy Secretary General and Program Manager, World Childhood Foundation

We have documented all steps during this sample and have shared it with Facebook, Internet Watch Foundation and the Swedish police. We do not want to share the information about group names and keywords in this text because we do not want to risk further dissemination of the material.

For more information please contact:
Charles Mingo Bennström, Press & PR Manager World Childhood Foundation
+46(0)734 22 04 42, charles.bennstrom@childhood.org

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