In this new normal as everyone adapts to living in this COVID-19 era, where folks have been largely staying home, online activity on all levels is on the rise.
Unfortunately though, during the pandemic, online child sexual abuse has increased and it’s a global problem. Sexual violence committed on the Facebook platform by child predators mainly affects African American and Hispanic children. African American children are victims of sexual abuse at almost twice the rate as white children and African American youth are overrepresented in child sex trafficking cases.
Data states that there is a high proportion of online sexual abuse victims and the fastest-growing group are toddlers. Young children who can’t speak are typically appealing for predators for child sexual abuse materials because they can’t report anything. There’s also grooming which is a different category for child exploitation and that involves young teenage girls. Sexual abuse takes place on Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp which reportedly is already the world’s No. 1 online hub for child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
During a live phone-based international news conference Thursday, July 30, concerned shareholders released an open letter to the 1,000-plus companies worldwide that are currently boycotting Facebook advertising.
More than 1,000 advertisers are supporting “Stop Hate for Profit” a campaign created by organizations concerned about violence, racism, anti-biases, anti-Semitism, and other various issues of violence and discrimination. Many shareholders care about online child sexual abuse and the more shareholders the campaign has, the issue will spread across America. In 2019, there were more than 16.8 million reports of child sexual abuse material online and, of that, 15.8 million––or 94%––came from Facebook and its platforms.
One shareholder supporting “Stop Hate for Profit” is Fiduciary Trust Company International. A company that works in the area of impact investing, economic justice, and environmental social issues. The company has been engaged and supportive of the campaign and the issue of child sexual exploitation online.
Vice-Chair of Fiduciary Trust Company International Lissette Cooper said, “We reached out to the Stop Hate for Profit campaign to support what they’re doing and to ask the advertisers to take a pause in advertising on Facebook, to ask them to include these issues of sexual violence and that it also has a really serious component of racism.”
Some people may question why a parent would ever let their child use Facebook. According to Cooper, the answer is parents may want to prevent or limit the time spent. Children are clever, and they discover ways to get around the restrictions. Her daughter Sarah Widman who is African American and white is a survivor of child sexual abuse on Facebook. She said, “Parents can tell kids what to do on social media but kids don’t want to listen, and it causes a lot of friction in the relationship; that the platform needs to take responsibility for providing a safe space, but safety is not one of Facebook’s values right now.”
There are several actions that Facebook must do to address online child sexual abuse, she stated. According to Cooper Facebook needs to continue to invest in tools that will detect and prevent grooming online and to detect all kinds of child sexual abuse materials including streaming of videos. More moderators need to review content and report to law enforcement. Facebook needs to do a better job with age-verification to keep children and predators apart from each other. Lastly, education sponsored by tech companies and schools for both parents and children on the risks of social media and child predators and exploitation.
“This is an issue that affects Black and Brown girls disproportionately and that they really need a voice,” said Cooper. “These days girls are exploited in the Facebook platform and we need to protect these girls. We just can’t let Facebook and other technology providers escape responsibility for the content on their platform, we really need them to step up and do even more than doing right now to keep our children safe.”