Facebook asks BBC for proof it failed to remove child porn, then reports BBC to the police

One of the groups the BBC discovered | Image via BBC

Facebook has been harshly criticized over the years for its lack of enforcement when it comes to content that violates guidelines or laws. Child pornography is one example, with investigations by the BBC and others showing Facebook failing to take appropriate action even when material is reported. The social network claims to have made improvements in this area, but a recent follow-up investigation by the BBC showed the opposite.

In a bizarre twist, when the BBC proved Facebook had not removed offending content, Facebook reported the BBC to the police for sharing child pornography.

Last year, the BBC investigated Facebook and found that the social network is routinely used by pedophiles to swap child pornography and communicate, without the company taking appropriate action.

Now, one year later, testing Facebook’s claims that it has stepped up its content evaluation measures, the BBC reported 100 images that it believed to be in violation of community guidelines and laws, using the network’s automatic tool. The content in question involved child pornography, child abuse, sexualized minors and other offending images. Out of those, only 18 were removed, with the rest reportedly not infringing the social network’s standards. The images left online included some seemingly depicting child abuse.

The BBC asked to interview a Facebook executive on the subject and was granted permission to do so, on condition that it provided Facebook with examples of infringing material that the network hadn’t removed. But in a bizarre twist, when the BBC journalists complied and sent Facebook the offending material, they were reported to the police. The journalists' mistake seems to have been that they sent an image or a screenshot of the offending material, not a link. Facebook then issued a statement saying “It is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation.”

The Chairman of the Media Commons, Damian Collins said it was “extraordinary” that the BBC had been reported when the journalists were simply trying to “help clean up the [Facebook’s] network”. He also expressed “grave doubts” about the effectiveness of Facebook’s content moderation system.

The BBC’s director of editorial policy, David Jordan, also expressed surprise and confusion at Facebook’s reaction:

The fact that Facebook sent images that had been sent to them, that appear on their site, for their response about how Facebook deals with inappropriate images…the fact that they sent those on to the police seemed to me to be extraordinary. One can only assume that the Facebook executives were unwilling or certainly reluctant to engage in an interview or a debate about why these images are available on the Facebook site.

Despite the criticism, Facebook – the company that’s storing child pornography images, failing to take them down, and apparently failing to follow the law where it actually counts – stood by its action against the BBC. Simon Milner, Facebook UK Policy Director:

We have carefully reviewed the content referred to us and have now removed all items that were illegal or against our standards. This content is no longer on our platform. We take this matter extremely seriously and we continue to improve our reporting and take-down measures. When the BBC sent us such images we followed our industry's standard practice and reported them to Ceop [Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre].

Meanwhile, over the last six months, Facebook went to war against journalists and even the Norwegian PM, for sharing an iconic, Pulitzer prize-winning image of a naked child fleeing napalm strikes in Vietnam. The “Terror of War” image was thought to be child pornography and against Facebook’s community standards, before widespread criticism forced the social network to back down.

Source: BBC

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