Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaking at a conference in Spain in February of 2016 (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Facebook has come under fire for not doing enough to police secret groups that trade child porn on the network. And in a disturbing twist, Facebook seems to be making the problem worse. When BBC journalists discovered child porn on the network and sent those images to Facebook last week, the company reported the BBC to police in the UK for the distribution of illegal images.

The BBC has been investigating secret child porn rings on Facebook for years. And last week a representative from Facebook, Simon Milner, finally agreed to sit down for an interview about moderation tools on the network. There was just one condition: Facebook asked that the BBC reporters send the company images that they’d found on Facebook’s secret groups that the BBC would like to discuss.

The BBC journalists sent Facebook the images they had flagged from private Facebook groups. And not only did Facebook cancel the interview, the company reported the journalists to the police.

Advertisement

“It is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation. When the BBC sent us such images we followed our industry’s standard practice and reported them to CEOP [Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre],” Facebook told Gizmodo in a statement. “We also reported the child exploitation images that had been shared on our own platform. This matter is now in the hands of the authorities.”

Gizmodo spoke with Facebook’s press team in the UK but they would not discuss the specifics of the case on the record beyond the prepared statement they released. Simon Milner, current policy director at Facebook, did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment this morning through Facebook. Milner used to work for the BBC, according to his public Facebook page.

Using Facebook’s own moderation tools, the BBC’s recent investigation attempted to report 100 images that appeared to violate Facebook’s terms of service for sexualized images of children. The BBC found that just 18 of the 100 were eventually taken down on Facebook.

Sponsored

Furthermore, Facebook’s rules forbid convicted pedophiles in the UK from having accounts. After positively identifying five pedophiles on the site and notifying Facebook, the BBC reports that no action was taken.

“The fact that Facebook sent images that had been sent to them, that appear on their site, for their response about how Facebook deals with inappropriate images… the fact that they sent those on to the police seemed to me to be extraordinary,” BBC’s director of editorial policy, David Jordan, told his own news outlet.

Gizmodo asked the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) about the case of Facebook reporting BBC journalists for doing their jobs and was sent boilerplate language about how important it is for anyone who may accidentally stumble upon child porn on social media platforms to report that to the police.

“It is vital that social media platforms have robust procedures in place to guard against indecent content, and that they report and remove any indecent content if identified. Social media platforms should also provide easy to use and accessible reporting mechanisms for their users,” the NCA told Gizmodo in a statement.

Advertisement

But the agency wouldn’t comment on this specific case and whether or not the BBC journalists are now being investigated for the distribution of child pornography.

“The NCA does not routinely confirm or deny the existence of specific investigations, nor receipt of specific reports,” the NCA said.

Advertisement

“We have carefully reviewed the content referred to us and have now removed all items that were illegal or against our standards,” Facebook told Gizmodo in a statement. “This content is no longer on our platform. We take this matter extremely seriously and we continue to improve our reporting and take-down measures.”

“Facebook has been recognized as one of the best platforms on the internet for child safety,” Facebook’s statement continues.

It could not be determined by press time whether Facebook is indeed “one of the best platforms on the internet for child safety.” What could be confirmed, however, was that Facebook reported journalists to the police who were making a good faith effort to expose illegal images on their own platform.