SCIENCE & TECH: Meta expands tools for ‘helping teens avoid sextortion scams’ after bombshell Senate hearing
Meta said Tuesday it is expanding support to help teen social media users avoid getting trapped in “sextortion” scams – just one week after Senate lawmakers blasted Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill for failing to stop a nationwide “crisis.”
Zuckerberg has faced intense scrutiny over Meta’s alleged role in the rise of financial “sextortion” scams, where criminals trick kids into sending sexually explicit photos or videos and then threaten to release them unless they pay.
Now, the embattled Facebook and Instagram parent company said it has expanded access to a tool called “Take It Down,” which will be available in 25 languages, according to the announcement.
Meta said the expansion would make the tool “accessible to millions more teens around the world.” Nevertheless, critics weren’t impressed.
“We’re not particularly interested in the empty promises of a company that until recently basically told users on Instagram, ‘Click here if you’d like to see child porn,’” said Josh Golin, executive director at the online safety advocate Fairplay.”
“What we need is for Congress to put an end to Meta’s disastrous self-regulation and pass the Kids Online Safety Act, which would address not only sextortion but a wide range of serious and even fatal harms that young people experience online.”
Developed with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), the tool allows users to anonymously add a digital “fingerprint” to sexually explicit photos. Once added, the “fingerprint” can be used to track and quickly remove copies of intimate images to stop them from spreading, according to Meta.
Meta also said it worked with nonprofit Thorn to “develop updated guidance for teens on how to take back control if someone is sextorting them.” The additions to Meta’s “Safety Center” also include guides for parents and teachers on how to provide support for impacted teens.
A page in Meta’s safety center gives teens advice, titled “five ways to respond to sextortion.”
It includes urging them to “stop responding and do not pay,” and “talk to someone you trust, like a close friend, teacher or parent” if faced with sex-related scam, among other tips.
In a separate announcement, Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg said the company was expanding tools to label AI-generated images and would begin to do so “in the coming months” on Facebook, Instagram and Threads.
The company admitted its initial effort would be limited because it was “not yet possible to identify all AI-generated content, and there are ways that people can strip out invisible markers.”
During last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sex exploitation, Democratic Chair Dick Durbin decried the “explosion” in sextortion cases. In the 10 months from January through October last year, NCMEC received more than 22,000 reports related to the crime – up from just 139 for all of 2021.
Durbin blasted Meta and other social media firms for their’ “constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety” that puts “all our kids and grandkids at risk” and has fueled a “crisis in America.”
Elsewhere, Sen. Lindsey Graham told Zuckerberg, “you have blood on your hands,” and highlighted the tragic case of South Carolina Rep. Brandon Guffey’s teenage son, Gavin, who died by suicide after being targeted in a sextortion scam on Instagram. Guffey’s family is now suing the company.
Zuckerberg faced more criticism last week following revelations that Meta’s first-ever dividend would give him an annual $700 million windfall.
At the same time, the billionaire’s personal fortune swelled by $28 billion in a single day as investors reacted positively to Meta’s strong earnings report.
Meta said its latest steps were meant to give “more teens control over their intimate images, helping teens — and their parents and teachers — feel better equipped against those trying to exploit them, and supporting creators and safety organizations around the world as part of a global campaign to raise awareness of ways to prevent sextortion.”