Facebook is in hot water for surveying some users about the hypothetical situation of a 14-year-old girl being solicited by an older man for sexual images on the social media platform.
A representative from Facebook later called the survey "a mistake."
The Brief Survey
On Sunday, March 4, selected Facebook users received the questionable survey as a pop-up on the social media platform.
"How would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures," the survey went.
The survey users may choose if the content should be posted on Facebook, and if the user would mind seeing if it was posted. Users may also answer if they "have no preference" on this issue.
None of the choices provided included the option for the user to contact the authorities if such behavior was spotted.
Jonathan Haynes, a digital editor with The Guardian, shared screenshots of the survey on Twitter.
And asked this … and I’m like, er wait it making it secret the best Facebook can offer here? Not, y’know, calling the police? pic.twitter.com/t2UZuKalfk — Jonathan Haynes (@JonathanHaynes) March 4, 2018
The first question on the survey had a follow-up, asking: "Ideally, who do you think should be deciding the rules?" The answer choices for this question included Facebook deciding the rules or the users making the decision.
And y’know, shouldn’t laws figure here as being quite important on determining rules? pic.twitter.com/9fzdHNJos8 — Jonathan Haynes (@JonathanHaynes) March 4, 2018
Facebook Responds To The Controversy
Within hours of the survey's release, several users took to social media to complain about the survey. The backlash elicited an immediate response from a Facebook official.
Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of product, called the survey a "mistake."
"We run surveys to understand how the community thinks about how we set policies. But this kind of activity is and will always be completely unacceptable on [Facebook]," Rosen tweeted. "We regularly work with authorities if identified."
Facebook also released an official statement to apologize for the survey and stated that the content is already banned from its network.
A History Of Sexual Predators
Facebook has had a long history of preventing child predators from using the social network to engage with children. It was once impossible for sex offenders to join Facebook, until the Supreme Court ruled against the ban in 2017.
With the ban overturned, Facebook tried to enact new measures to prevent sex offenders from speaking to children on the network.
Some states have attempted to create their own laws to prevent offenders from taking advantage of children on Facebook, but without a federal law in place, little can be done to stop it.
Facebook has hardly been the only social media channel with a sexual predator problem. One professor in an interview called Snapchat a "haven for sexual predators" who rely on the app to send inappropriate content to children. YouTube faced backlash from advertisers after videos featuring kids attracted the comments of sex offenders. Also, there is also the threat of predators using photos on Instagram in attempts to lure young children.