Facebook has faced many questions since the last year, many related to the fallout from the 2016 United States presidential election and the role it may have played enabling misinformation. But illegal activity is starting to creep up on the site as well. A Facebook marriage auction that ended up selling a child bride was taken down only after the auction had ended, highlighting Facebook’s problem in trying to monitor their website for illegal activity.
According to a recent report from Vice, a sixteen year old girl from South Sudan was sold off to a high bidder on Facebook earlier this month after the girl’s family posted a message on Facebook looking for a bidder. A business tycoon from Juba, South Sudan’s capital, won the auction with the winning bid of 530 cows, three land cruisers and $10,000. Child marriage is illegal in South Sudan, but that hasn’t stopped people from engaging in the practice anyway.
Facebook became aware of the issue on November 9, three days after the girl was married to the auction winner. The post was taken down 24 hours after Facebook first discovered it. In a statement to TechCrunch, Facebook said that it is improving its methods to police content that breaks its policies.
Any form of human trafficking — whether posts, pages, ads or groups is not allowed on Facebook. We removed the post and permanently disabled the account belonging to the person who posted this to Facebook. We’re always improving the methods we use to identify content that breaks our policies, including doubling our safety and security team to more than 30,000 and investing in technology.
The fear is that with this recent success, more people will be emboldened to engage in human trafficking on Facebook.
“We feel [Facebook] should have much better vigilance and reporting mechanisms going on, so they can act quickly and efficiently when there are girls rights violations of this nature on their platforms,” Susannah Birkwood of Plan International told Vice. “It is not good enough to say they were not aware of it.”
The article mentioned that Facebook has tried to deflect criticism of its failures to monitor illegal activity, noting that local dialects impede them from removing harmful and illegal content. But as Facebook grows, and more people become aware of what they can and cannot do on the platform, situations like these are in danger of becoming more widespread.