Facebook is catching heat for sending a survey to users that asked how they would handle a “private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures.”
The question in question was asking users to imagine “an ideal world where you could set Facebook’s policies.” Users were given a handful of potential ways to answer the question. One: “this content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it;” Another: “this content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it.” Recipients of the survey were also allowed to say that they actually had no preference.
What’s, um, strange about the whole thing is that none of the available answers said anything about reaching out to law enforcement or Child Protective Services. In fact, the answers don’t seem to acknowledge that the act in question is already illegal at all. The follow-up survey question doubled down on the tone-deafness, asking whether Facebook, users, or outside experts should determine what the rules about a grown man asking a 14-year-old for sexual pictures should be. The answers all involved measures of action Facebook and Facebook alone should take and had nothing about proper authorities.
“This is a stupid and irresponsible survey,” said Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Home Affairs in an interview with the Guardian. “Adult men asking 14-year-olds to send sexual images is not only against the law, it is completely wrong and an appalling abuse and exploitation of children. I cannot imagine that Facebook executives ever want it on their platform but they also should not send out surveys that suggest they might tolerate it or suggest to Facebook users that this might ever be acceptable.”
This isn’t the first time Facebook has vexed users by hurling something potentially dangerous to children into the social media ether. Despite the company’s claim that they were trying to address the issue of children under 13-year-old using the platform with the unveiling of their Messenger Kids app, many critiqued the company for actually creating a new social need for young children rather than addressing the negative impacts of social media use.
Facebook’s leaked child abuse guidelines have also elicited anger from parents. While the company says that “‘evidence’ of child abuse to be shared on the site to allow for the child to be identified and rescued,” the content is only removed entirely if it’s being shared for enjoyment. If the evidence of child abuse doesn’t meet those criteria, the content is only marked as “disturbing.”
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Product, issued an apology for the question on Twitter. “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,” he wrote. “That was a mistake.”