Facebook asked users how would they handle a message soliciting “sexual” images from a child

Down it goes.
Down it goes.
Image: Reuters/Benoit Tessier
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Over the weekend, Facebook sent out a survey asking users how they would handle a situation where an adult man was asking a 14-year-old girl for sexual images, according to The Guardian. The available answers simply referred to whether or not the content should be permitted on the platform.

The survey caused a storm in the UK, where it was reportedly initially noticed. (It’s unclear whether it ran outside the UK as well.) It was called “distasteful,” “stupid and irresponsible,” with critics rightly pointing out that soliciting such images is illegal. None of the answers included involving law enforcement in the process. But perhaps more revealing was another question asked in the survey: “ideally, who do you think should be deciding the rules?”

Facebook keeps demonstrating that, instead of making certain decisions, it would rather cede the responsibility to users. It largely relies on people using its platform to flag offensive content. After its various experiments with battling fake news, it started asking users which news sources they find trustworthy and not.

Passing the decision-making process to the user helps Facebook maintain its self-portrayal as a tech company, rather than a media organization that decides what content to publish and what to ban. Being viewed as a publisher instead of a tech company could hurt its business, and open it up to governmental regulation.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Twitter, the company’s vice-president of product said the questions’ inclusion in the survey was “a mistake.”

In a statement to The Guardian, the company said it stopped the survey, and that it understands that it refers to clearly offensive content.

“We have prohibited child grooming on Facebook since our earliest days; we have no intention of changing this and we regularly work with the police to ensure that anyone found acting in such a way is brought to justice.”