Sex Trafficking Victim Sues Facebook

 

By Lynn Fugaro, Staff Writer

A woman, identified only as Jane Doe, filed a lawsuit last week against Facebook alleging that Facebook does not do enough to combat human trafficking and that its website provides an unrestricted platform for traffickers to contact potential victims. The key issue is identity verification.

Annie McAdams, the lawyer for Jane Doe who filed the suit on her behalf, said: “It was not just because a pimp did something that Jane Doe was trafficked. That pimp is not able to traffic Jane Doe unless Facebook allowed him access to her.”

McAdams alleges in the lawsuit that Facebook has failed its users when it comes to identity verification and that it has the power to do more to prevent people creating false profiles and tricking their victims. Jane Doe was allegedly trafficked when she was just 15 years old by a man who claimed he knew many of her close friends and was using a fake Facebook profile.

Legal Background

The lawsuit, filed in Texas, comes just months after President Trump signed a new bill in April; the bill was in response to the indictment of the owners of Backpage.com, a website that allegedly facilitated prostitution but has since been removed from the Internet. The Communications Decency Act of 1996, the law in effect prior to that President Trump signed in April, provided websites a legal loophole. It states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, websites could not be held liable for the information its users provide or post.

Keep in mind, the Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996. The Internet was in its infancy back then, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was just 12 years old. After the founders of Backpage.com were indicted in April 2018, President Trump signed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA) and the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (SESTA) into law. These two new acts, signed as a package into law, allow the owners and operators of websites to be held liable when their services are used “to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.” They are intended to prevent website owners or operators from benefiting from the promotion of sex trafficking.

Facebook’s Response to the Lawsuit

In its written response to the lawsuit, a Facebook representative stated, “Human trafficking is abhorrent and is not allowed on Facebook. We use technology to thwart this kind of abuse and we encourage people to use the reporting links found across our site so that our team of experts can review the content swiftly. Facebook also works closely with anti-trafficking organizations and other technology companies, and we report all apparent instances of child sexual exploitation to NCMEC (the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).”

Attorney McAdams, however, argues that Facebook has not only dropped the ball on identity verification, but also needs to do more to warn users that traffickers are out there and target minors.

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