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New Mexico sues Meta after investigating young users’ exposure to dangerous content

The logos of Facebook and Instagram and the words are seen in this photo illustration taken Jan.19, 2023. The New Mexico Attorney General’s office filed a civil lawsuit against Meta Dec. 5, alleging the social media giant has become a “marketplace for predators” on its platforms Instagram and Facebook, the latest in a series of allegations against Meta concerning how young users are impacted by those platforms. (OSV News Illustration/Dado Ruvic, Reuters)

SANTA FE, N.M. (OSV News) — The New Mexico Attorney General’s office filed a civil lawsuit against Meta Dec. 5, alleging the social media giant has become a “marketplace for predators” on its Instagram and Facebook platforms, the latest in a series of allegations against Meta concerning how young users are impacted by those sites.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez said in a statement, “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.”

“As a career prosecutor who specialized in internet crimes against children, I am committed to using every available tool to put an end to these horrific practices and I will hold companies — and their executives — accountable whenever they put profits ahead of children’s safety,” Torrez said.

Torrez’s office said that it conducted an undercover investigation of those platforms in which it set up decoy accounts posing as children 14 and younger. Through those accounts, they saw “egregious, sexually explicit images” despite showing no interest in such content, encountered adults seeking explicit images from those accounts or recommendations pushing them into unmoderated groups “devoted to facilitating commercial sex.”

His office also said the platforms allowed “a fictitious mother to offer her 13-year-old daughter for sale to sex traffickers and to create a professional page to allow her daughter to share revenue from advertising.”

“Mr. Zuckerberg and other Meta executives are aware of the serious harm their products can pose to young users, and yet they have failed to make sufficient changes to their platforms that would prevent the sexual exploitation of children,” Torrez said. “Despite repeated assurances to Congress and the public that they can be trusted to police themselves, it is clear that Meta’s executives continue to prioritize engagement and ad revenue over the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

In a statement provided to The Wall Street Journal, a spokesperson for Meta said, “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.”

The lawsuit follows another filed by a group of 33 states against Meta in October alleging the company has misled the public over addictive features on those platforms targeting children.

Meta has previously faced congressional scrutiny after reporting by The Wall Street Journal detailed how underage-sex content was enabled by Instagram’s algorithms.

Earlier in June, four bishops serving as chairs of their respective committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a letter calling on lawmakers in Congress to address the exploitation of children through the internet and mobile technology with legislation that would reflect respect for life and dignity, the call to family and the call to community and participation.

“Online child exploitation threatens the safety and well-being of our young people and destroys families and communities,” stated the letter signed by Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri (Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People); Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia (Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development); Bishop Robert P. Reed, auxiliary bishop of Boston (Communications); and Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota (Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth).

“The ability of a child to grow into adulthood in peace and security is both a human right and a demand of the common good,” they said, adding “the dignity of the human person requires protections for our young people so that they may flourish as they mature.”

OSV News staff compiled this report.

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