Facebook and Instagram are steering children to explicit content even when no interest is expressed, and are enabling child predators to find and contact minors, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez claimed Wednesday in announcing a lawsuit against parent company Meta Platforms and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Children are pressed by predators into providing photos of themselves or to participate in pornographic videos, alleges the civil suit filed on Tuesday in New Mexico state court. Torrez claimed that rather than providing "safe spaces for children," the platforms are allowing predators to trade child pornography and solicit children for sex.
Meta has not implemented protections due to the potential hit on its advertising revenue, according to Torrez, whose office filed the lawsuit after an undercover investigation in which it set up phony accounts of fictional teens and preteens, using photographs generated by artificial intelligence. Meta's algorithms recommended sexual content to those accounts, which were also subject to a stream of explicit messages and propositions from adults on the platforms.
"Meta has allowed Facebook and Instagram to become a marketplace for predators in search of children upon whom to prey," the lawsuit alleges.
One account had investigators posting images of a fictional 13-year-old girl in Albuquerque, New Mexico, drawing thousands of adult followers. On Facebook Messenger, the account's chats received graphic photos and videos three to four times a week, according to the complaint.
"Mr. Zuckerberg and other Meta executives are aware of the serious harm their products can pose to young users, and yet they have failed to make sufficient changes to their platforms that would prevent the sexual exploitation of children," Torrez said in a statement.
He added, "Despite repeated assurances to Congress and the public that they can be trusted to police themselves, it is clear that Meta's executives continue to prioritize engagement and ad revenue over the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society."
The state's suit cited multiple recent criminal cases in New Mexico, including one perpetrator accused of recruiting more than 100 minor victims through Facebook.
Responding to the new complaint, Meta said Wednesday said it uses a range of measures to prevent sexual predators from targeting children and that it disabled more than 500,000 accounts in one month alone for violating the company's child safety policies.
"Child exploitation is a horrific crime and online predators are determined criminals. We use sophisticated technology, hire child safety experts, report content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and share information and tools with other companies and law enforcement, including state attorneys general, to help root out predators," a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.
The New Mexico suit comes in the wake of a suit filed in October by 41 other states and the District of Columbia contending Meta had deliberately engineered Instagram and Facebook .
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