Facebook is kicking itself for its “stupid and irresponsible” survey asking users if it was alright for men to ask underage girls for sexually explicit pictures.
Thousands of Facebook’s more than two billion users were asked to respond to questions that were not only injudicious and reckless but also bordered on being criminal in nature, if one were to be really honest about the whole thing.
To give you an idea of the ludicrousness of the survey, one of the questions asked:
“There are a wide range of topics and behaviors that appear on Facebook. In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook’s policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures.”
The choice of answers given to the respondents included:
- “This content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it.”
- “This content should be allowed on Facebook, but I don’t want to see it.”
- “This content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it.”
- “I have no preference on this topic.”
Another question, asking users who should decide the rules governing such sexually explicit pedophile requests to 14-year-olds, offered the following options for respondents to pick from:
- “Facebook decides the rules on its own.”
- “Facebook decides the rules with advice from external experts.”
- “External experts decide the rules and tell Facebook.”
- “Facebook users decide the rules by voting and tell Facebook.”
- “I have no preference.”
What really came across as surprising is the fact that none of the answers talk about the arbitration of a law enforcement agency, or even a child welfare organization, in a matter as sensitive as crime against underage children.
The ill-advised move attracted condemnation and contempt from various quarters.
Author of “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media” and University of Florida law professor Stacey Steinberg feels that Facebook will be better off using its popularity to help pedophile victims and their families, rather than indulging in mindless surveys.
“Working with law enforcement is an important first step, but Facebook can do even more. Instead of asking questions such as the ones posed in this survey, Facebook can use its reach to help families and victims,” she said.
Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee thought the survey was not only “stupid and irresponsible” but was illegal, as well. Here’s what she said.
“This is a stupid and irresponsible survey. Adult men asking 14-year-olds to send sexual images is not only against the law, it is completely wrong and an appalling abuse and exploitation of children. I cannot imagine that Facebook executives ever want it on their platform but they also should not send out surveys that suggest they might tolerate it or suggest to Facebook users that this might ever be acceptable.”
Cyber Civics and CyberWise founder Diana Graber finds it “hard to believe” that Facebook could be so insensitive regarding an issue such as this, calling the Facebook move “disgusting.”
“It is hard to believe that Facebook could be so utterly tone-deaf when it comes to this issue,” she said. “The fact that Facebook would even pose this question theoretically is disgusting.”
Digital citizenship expert and technology ethicist David Ryan Polgar was a little easier in his condemnation – if one can call it that – saying that the Facebook “misstep” was taken with “good intentions” that didn’t come across to the general public in the manner intended.
“The misstep with the survey seems to be a situation of good intentions that did not fully appreciate the rightful anger and frustration the general public feels towards the current online environment,” he said.
Facebook – as can be expected in the face of the backlash it has been subjected to – went into damage control mode, with no choice but to accept its “mistake.”
“We run surveys to understand how the community thinks about how we set policies,” Facebook’s vice president of product Guy Rosen wrote in a tweet.
“But this kind of activity is and will always be completely unacceptable on FB. We regularly work with authorities if identified. It shouldn’t have been part of this survey. That was a mistake,” he added.
In another attempt at minimizing damage to the social media’s image, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company already has a child grooming prohibition in place and that it was doing its bit to bring offenders to book, working in tandem with law enforcement authorities. He assured that the survey had been withdrawn.
“We sometimes ask for feedback from people about our community standards and the types of content they would find most concerning on Facebook,” said the spokesperson.
“We understand this survey refers to offensive content that is already prohibited on Facebook and that we have no intention of allowing so have stopped the survey,” he added.
He went on to say, “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.”
In a similar survey in November last year, which left as bad a taste in the mouth as the one under discussion, Google showed pictures of four minors and asked users, “Which child do you like the best?”
The survey was detected by Sky News on a UK website “trialing the Google Surveys service.”
“Google Surveys provide businesses with a simple platform for conducting consumer research to inform marketing decisions, such as testing which image would work best in a marketing campaign,” Google told Sky News.
“While we don’t believe at this time that the survey was the result of any malicious behavior, we quickly recognized that it was distasteful and the survey has been removed,” said the tech giant.
Speaking to Sky News, an employee at the hosting site confessed that the survey was “incredibly embarrassing.”