Facebook admits user survey concerning paedophilia was ‘a mistake’

6 Mar 2018

Facebook on mobile. Image: Twin Design/Shutterstock

Facebook fields criticism as survey question around child grooming causes concern.

On Sunday (4 March), Facebook ran a survey for a selection of users asking questions about how grooming of young people should be handled on its platform.

The questions were designed to gauge user opinions about Facebook’s policies around topics such as grooming and extremist content.

The company asked how users would handle a “private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures”. An answer option read: “This content should be allowed on Facebook and I would not mind seeing it.”

According to The Guardian, a second question asked who should make the rules in terms of whether or not the adult man in question should be permitted to ask for explicit pictures of minors on the platform in the first place. Options here included allowing Facebook users to decide and inform the company, or Facebook deciding the rules “on its own”.

Neither question allowed users to choose an option involving child protection or law enforcement, and the harshest option involved turning to Facebook itself for a verdict on such a situation.

Facebook executive apologises

Vice-president of product for Facebook, Guy Rosen, tweeted an apology about the question, saying it should not have been an element of the wider survey.

He maintained that the question was not a method of deciding Facebook’s stance on issues such as paedophilia. He said: “We run surveys to understand how the community thinks about how we set policies.

“But this kind of activity is and will always be completely unacceptable on FB. We regularly work with authorities if identified. It shouldn’t have been part of this survey. That was a mistake.”

In a statement, the social media giant was firm in its stance against all forms of abuse: “We have prohibited child grooming on Facebook since our earliest days; we have no intention of changing this and we regularly work with the police to ensure that anyone found acting in such a way is brought to justice.”

The wording of the survey raised concerns among many users and, although it’s evident that the company was searching for user opinions and feedback around controversial issues, the inclusion of certain questions was a poor decision.

According to the UK National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), 63pc of child grooming incidents take place on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

The BBC reported that the NSPCC wants social media companies to tackle the issue of child grooming with more urgency and technological tools, such as using machine learning to identify and flag grooming behaviour.

Facebook on mobile. Image: Twin Design/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects