The Facebook chapter of Smartphone for All keeps growing. I think I’m over the worst of it. I’m hopeful it will be particularly helpful, it’s going to feature in a May presentation I’m doing in the Twin Cities.
One of the tricky sections was figuring out what to say about Facebook pornography. Here’s my current draft, I may move the “why Facebook anyway” part to a different section …
Social media is risky for everyone. Many professionals either abstain from Facebook, use a pseudonym, or read but never interact. So why am I writing a chapter about Facebook use?
I’m writing about Facebook because many teens and adults want to use Facebook, and it’s much easier to help navigate than, say, Snapchat. Facebook is hard to avoid; it’s the primary way many of us learn about community news, events, and social activities. For many users Facebook is a primary news source.
Facebook is also a social experience. For most neurotypical users it’s only one of many social experiences, but many Explorers have limited social options. For them the social connections is particularly powerful.
Facebook can also be an opportunity to learn about social interactions with a Guide’s help. Especially if an Explorer uses a pseudonym (see below) there’s an opportunity to make social mistakes that a Guide can help with. Many Explorers only learn through experience.
Assuming an Explorer is going to use Facebook, what are the risks to watch for in addition to the social mistakes that every Facebook user experiences?
I know of two related risks that can be a special problem for Explorers and and other vulnerable users: sexual predators and pornography.
I’ve been unable to find any academic or police data on sexual predator activity on Facebook. A 2012 Reuters article1 tells us have read that Facebook uses AI type software to detect predator activity and that “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children processed 3,638 reports of online "enticement" of children by adults last year, down from 4,053 in 2010 and 5,759 in 2009.” Although only a fraction of incidents are likely reported the downward trend is encouraging. Facebook is probably relatively risky territory for predators, though even one can do a lot of damage2. Every Guide will need to measure this risk for both male and female Explorers, but as social networks go Facebook is likely safer and easier to monitor than most.
Pornography is a more complex problem. Facebook’s March 2016 terms of service3 say “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” In practice Facebook relies entirely on investigating complaints, it doesn’t actively seek exceptions. I’ve seen Facebook investigators decline to act on (closed) Group content that flagrantly violated the terms of service.
Whatever Facebook may claim, as of 2016 anyone actively seeking pornography on Facebook will find it, either by information exchanged at school or through Facebook itself. Of course most teens and adults won’t bother to look, if they have unrestricted web access they will find a vast array of pornography elsewhere. Facebook pornography is really only a problem for users with Facebook access but restricted web access, including children and many Explorers.
Some Guides will, because of personal values or Explorer issues, want to monitor and block extended access to Facebook pornography regardless of related problems (there’s no way to prevent initial access). Other Guides and Explorers may not be concerned by pornography alone. Unfortunately there are two related problems that favor monitoring and restriction.
One problem is that Facebook shares a lot of data among Friends, including an Explorer’s Friends, Groups4, and Likes — not to mention their posts and comments. An Explorer may unwittingly share Facebook pornography with grandparents, siblings and friends.
Another problem is that nobody creates pornography as a charitable enterprise. Facebook pornography has to make money, and since it’s technically banned it can’t rely on the usual advertising or game revenue. Facebook pornography has only a few ways to make money, including inducing Explorers to install ransomware5 and other forms of malware.
Until an Explorer advances to unrestricted web access, it’s probably a good idea to monitor for pornography delivered through Facebook Groups, Friends, and Pages and to work with an Explorer to remove the offending items. A Guide may choose to report issues to Facebook, but the results can be disappointing.
4 In theory only Public Groups. In practice information on closed groups can leak out as well.
5 Ransomware encrypts a user’s storage device and demands cash to make user data available. As of 2016 it’s a very profitable business.