Facebook is at risk of a criminal prosecution in Britain for refusing to remove potentially illegal terrorist and child pornography content despite being told it was on the site, The Times reported this morning.
The Times claimed that Facebook had failed to take down dozens of images and videos that were flagged to its moderators, including one showing an IS beheading, several paedophilic cartoons, a video of an apparent sexual assault on a child, and propaganda glorifying recent terrorist attacks. Instead of removing the content, moderators said that the posts did not breach the site’s “community standards”.
A leading QC who reviewed the content said that, in his view, much of it was illegal under British law and that Facebook was at risk of committing a criminal offence because it had been made aware of the illegal images and had failed to take them down, The Times reported.
Facebook was also criticised on a separate occasion recently for allegedly failing to remove sexualised pictures of children from its website and then reporting BBC journalists who brought it to their attention to the police.
Commenting at the time, Damian Collins, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said: "I find it very disturbing, I find that content unacceptable. I think it raises the question of how can users make effective complaints to Facebook about content that is disturbing, shouldn't be on the site, and have confidence that that will be acted upon."
The world’s biggest social network and publisher made $10 billion profit last year by selling advertising targeted at its almost two billion monthly users. Press Gazette reported yesterday that the UK’s digital advertising market grew by 17.3 per cent to £10.3bn last year but nearly all the extra money went to Google and Facebook.
The News Media Association is pressing the government and regulators to investigate the damaging market impact of news aggregators on the news media sector’s long-term ability to carry out investigative journalism and fact-checking in an age of fake news.
Commenting on the content identified by The Times, Julian Knowles QC said: “In my view, many of the images and videos identified by The Times are illegal. One video appears to depict a sexual assault on a child. That would undoubtedly breach UK indecency laws. The video showing a beheading is very likely to be a publication that encourages terrorism.
“I would argue that the actions of people employed by Facebook to keep up or remove reported posts should be regarded as the actions of Facebook as a corporate entity. If someone reports an illegal image to Facebook and a senior moderator signs off on keeping it up, Facebook is at risk of committing a criminal offence because the company might be regarded as assisting or encouraging its publication and distribution.”
In a leader column this morning, The Times said: "If a newspaper published cartoons of children performing sex acts and sexually suggestive photographs of children, it would rightly be the subject of outrage and investigation. If when asked to desist, the paper continued, it would end in court with criminal prosecutions.
“Yet an investigation by The Times has found that Facebook, the social media company and publisher, has hosted such images with impunity even after they have been identified. A Queen’s Counsel says Facebook could be committing a crime. The authorities have let this go on long enough. Facebook must face up to its moral and legal responsibilities."
The Times has informed the Metropolitan Police and the National Crime Agency about its findings.
Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vicepresident of global operations, told The Times: “We are grateful to The Times for bringing this content to our attention. We have removed all of these images, which violate our policies and have no place on Facebook. We are sorry that this occurred. It is clear that we can do better, and we’ll continue to work hard to live up to the high standards people rightly expect of Facebook.”