How Meta’s Failure to Act Upon Human Trafficking Claims Led to Another Lawsuit

How Meta’s Failure to Act Upon Human Trafficking Claims Led to Another Lawsuit

How Meta’s Failure to Act Upon Human Trafficking Claims Led to Another Lawsuit

The lawsuit accuses Mark Zuckerberg and other Meta directors and executives of failing to address sex trafficking and child exploitation happening on popular social media sites Instagram and Facebook.

“For the past decade, Meta’s platforms have assisted, supported, and facilitated perpetrators of widespread systemic sex trafficking, human trafficking, and child sexual exploitation that has occurred on a massive scale on Meta’s platforms,” the complaint says, as well as that:

“Although the board and management have known about this increasing trend, both management and the board have consciously turned a blind eye.”

The complaint was filed in Delaware’s Chancery Court on March 8 by several pension and investment funds that own Meta stock.

A partly redacted version, made public on March 20, says that Meta has failed to explain how it combats issues such as sex trafficking and child exploitation — thus “the only logical inference is that the board has consciously decided to permit Meta’s platforms to promote and facilitate sex/human trafficking.

The type of case that is being filed is a “shareholder derivative lawsuit;” in such suits, a shareholder or a group of shareholders sue a company’s leadership, on behalf of the company, for “breaching their duties.”

“A shareholder can only sue when the corporation has a valid cause of action but has refused to use it, and the damage awards of the suit come to the corporation instead of the shareholder,” Cornell Law school explains.

Meta’s response

Meta has not accepted the reasoning for the lawsuit.

Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Meta, said on Tuesday in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law: “We prohibit human exploitation and child sexual exploitation in no uncertain terms.”

“The claims in this lawsuit mischaracterise our efforts to combat this type of activity. Our goal is to prevent people who seek to exploit others from using our platform,” said Stone.

This isn’t the only such lawsuit

Meta has faced accusations of facilitating child exploitation before, by victims, survivors and their relatives as well as by civil sector organisations.

A 2020 study from the nonprofit investigative group Tech Transparency Project (TPP), which analysed the Department of Justice’s criminal cases mentioning Facebook between January 2013 and December 2019, found that Facebook alone was used to facilitate over 366 cases of child exploitation in the US during this period.

The group suspected the alleged predators “used the social network for child exploitation, including distributing sexual abuse images, recruiting children and sex trafficking.”

Around 91% of the cases the group found and analysed were not reported to the authorities by Facebook. “Instead, officials said they relied on information from the public, leads from other investigations or sting operations to identify suspects,” TPP explains.

Only 9% of the cases were initiated as a result of Facebook pointing them out to authorities (or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which receives cyber tips from Facebook).

Some examples of cases that the TTP shared in 2020 include:

  • “A Kentucky man accused of sending thousands of messages to multiple children through Facebook;
  • a Rhode Island man who allegedly posed as a teenage girl to lure boys into livestreaming sexual activity on Facebook Messenger;
  • and a convicted Missouri sex offender who allegedly used Facebook Messenger to communicate with a 13-year-old girl.”

Alarmingly, TPP also found that such cases were happening more frequently, almost doubling between 2013 to 2019, and notes that the number of Facebook users also grew significantly during this period.

“Child exploitation is one of the most serious threats that we focus on,” Zuckerberg told lawmakers in 2019, adding that they were building “sophisticated systems to find this behaviour.”

Sex trafficking is not the only problem

This is one of many types of legal cases that Meta has been dealing with. Over the years, the company has been subject to multiple allegations, one of the main issues being privacy policies and data protection breaches, and the mental health impacts Meta platforms have on users.

“Ultimately, it rests with Mark and whatever his prerogative is — and it has always been to grow, to increase his power and his reach,” says Jennifer Grygiel, Professor of Communications at Syracuse University, in reference to the way that Facebook treats its users. Grygiel has followed the activities of Facebook for years.

As Reuters reminds us, “Meta separately faces hundreds of lawsuits from families of teenagers and younger children who claimed to suffer mental health problems by becoming addicted to Facebook and Instagram. Some school districts have also filed lawsuits over the problem.”

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Over the years, there have been small alterations to Meta platforms. For example, an optional time limit feature has been added to Instagram that alerts you once you have spent your chosen daily amount of time on the platform.

However, the most addictive aspects of the app regard the endless scrolling and the dopamine hit that is received when notifications appear on the screen from people wanting to contact you, or new posts from accounts a user may follow.

This aspect of the severely addictive nature of this platforms is yet to be modified. 

How Meta may have contributed to human trafficking

According to the complaint, reports from human rights groups say that, “a majority of sex trafficking takes place online, with a majority of that online trafficking happening on Meta’s platforms,” like Instagram and Facebook.

The trafficking in question, the complaint says, encompasses an “online slave market” used to “sell” women from Saudi Arabia.

Once aware of these allegations, Apple Inc. threatened to remove platforms Facebook and Instagram from its App Store. In response, the suit says that Meta’s high-level employees “conceded” they had been “underreporting this behaviour.”

Furthermore, the complaint states that these employees even admitted the following: “Our platform enables all three stages of the human exploitation lifecycle (recruitment, facilitation, exploitation) via complex real-world networks.”

Not just Zuckerberg, but many other significant figures in the company had enough time to deal with this “heinous” case, the suit says, adding that Zuckerberg “repeatedly testified before Congress” on the matter, clearly demonstrating that he is “well aware” of the issue.

Who filed the complaint, and with what goal?

The complaint was filed by the Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island, which is a retirement system that provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to state employees; the Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, a multi-employer-defined benefit union pension based in Valley View, United States; and the Fisher Funds Management Ltd., which identifies itself as New Zealand’s “largest specialist investment manager.”

This is not the first time that the Rhode Island pension fund has had legal quarrels with Zuckerburg. According to them, Zuckerburg was negotiating a “larger than necessary” $5 billion fine with the Federal Trade Commission in order to keep themselves out of legal trouble regarding their highly questionable associations with Cambridge Analytica.

The new suit, according to Rhode Island Treasurer, James A. Diossa, aims to guarantee that Meta “implements meaningful change to address the illegal conduct occurring on its platforms.”

It would appear this legal action is not something being put in place in an attempt to cripple Meta as a business, but to protect its users and the victims subject to the atrocities that the platform allows, such as sex trafficking and child exploitation.

“Meta’s executives and board members can no longer consciously fail to address the rampant sex trafficking, human trafficking, and child sexual exploitation,” Diossa added.