Push to log off Facebook in protest of its alleged role in spreading online sex trafficking

Read more stories from the series Breaking Silence: How Facebook Seeds Hate. The nonprofit group that fights sex trafficking across the globe launched a new campaign Thursday asking Facebook users to pledge to log…

Push to log off Facebook in protest of its alleged role in spreading online sex trafficking

Read more stories from the series Breaking Silence: How Facebook Seeds Hate.

The nonprofit group that fights sex trafficking across the globe launched a new campaign Thursday asking Facebook users to pledge to log off. On average, Facebook is visited by 2.2 billion people each month, according to the company.

“Some people who are on Facebook who experience cybersex trafficking feel helpless to help others. There are frightening risks in reporting, or even preventing, these postings and messages,” Keren Gottfried, a supporter of the campaign, said in a press release. “So the pledge and information are an open invitation for anyone on Facebook, as a bystander or as a friend, to make a difference.”

The “Aware Internet” campaign aims to give survivors, advocates and people with concerns a way to speak out, and the signature pledge asks those involved to “walk out of Facebook and start your own ‘Walkaway’ ― logging off Facebook altogether.” It comes as Facebook comes under fire for the spread of hate speech and images on its site. In 2016, users on the social network, Instagram and WhatsApp used social media to organize and support the Muslim minority in India following deadly rioting there. But last week, a video appeared on Facebook showing the killing of an elderly Palestinian, a crime condemned by U.S. President Donald Trump.

A public statement released Thursday by Facebook’s corporate communications department, addressing what many claim were the “horrible propaganda” posted by the Delhi crime victim, said the company takes a zero-tolerance policy against posts and comments that violate community standards. “There are laws against the sale and trafficking of human beings and hate speech on Facebook.”

In another twist to the Facebook struggle, the Washington Post reported last week that Facebook and Google have removed 2,000 ads from their platforms, alleging that they targeted and advocated for U.S. tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit wealthy individuals and multinational corporations. The ads from companies such as AT&T, CVS and Amazon that highlighted the tax plan were removed from Facebook and Google platforms after an investigation by the Post found numerous examples of individuals and companies effectively advocating for the law.

Ms. Gottfried noted that some users have said Facebook is more like a brothel than a social media platform. “Some young women who come to my rescue describe themselves as ‘tricked into the sex industry,’” she said. “Facebook thrives on this kind of virality and promotes its presence. It’s very hard to turn away. That’s the goal of the pledge.”

For months, a group of women known as Break the Silence has been fighting to raise awareness of sex trafficking on Facebook. They say they suffer significant retaliation for exposing the horrific acts committed by traffickers on Facebook and say it makes it difficult for victims to provide credible information or be identified. Last month, one of the group’s members found a series of posts advertising sex that a man had posted under the name of a deceased teen. A day later, a member of the group received a notification from Facebook warning her not to share the details that someone connected to her was sharing, as they might be considered illegal under “content standards.” Facebook eventually agreed to block the post, but the incident has sparked concern from people at Break the Silence and their supporters that Facebook can be too quickly bent by pressure from advertisers.

Women who are trafficked often cite Facebook as an essential platform on which to evade capture and remain in contact with the pimps. “Without Facebook,” a former sex trafficking victim said, “I can’t beeline to Madison Square Garden … like a panhandler will do.”

Read more stories from the series Breaking Silence: How Facebook Seeds Hate.

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