A group that specializes in working with children who’ve been trafficked is calling out Facebook to change its privacy settings to protect vulnerable children.
Connecticut-based Love146 works closely with youth who have been trafficked to rebuild their lives. Through that work, they’ve heard from countless young people that many predators first contacted them through social media like Facebook and Snapchat.
“Clearly, a number of the kids we work with in our U.S. survivor program were first connected to their trafficker through Facebook,” said Josh Mamis, media and marketing strategist with Love146.
To test the validity of what they were hearing, the Love146 team set up a Facebook account for a fake 14-year-old to see how the process worked. Mamis said they were surprised that Facebook had a recommended friends list that included perfect strangers and a number of friend requests were received from those strangers.
“There’s a privacy setting Facebook could use that could keep that from happening,” Mamis said.
The Change.org campaign, #ProtectChildrenByDefault, was launched on June 18 with an almost two-minute video calling out flaws in Facebook’s default privacy settings for minors that make them vulnerable to predators.
The campaign requests that Facebook make three changes:
- By default, stop children’s friends lists from being public.
- Create a new privacy setting: “Who can see me on other people’s friends lists?” – and by default for children, make it “Only my friends.”
- By default, allow children to receive direct messages only from close friends.
Since launching the campaign, more than 6,700 people have signed the petition, but Mamis said many more are needed to draw the attention of the tech giant.
In recent years, others have drawn attention to the dangers of social media and the dark web, like actor Ashton Kutcher who started a nonprofit, Thorn, to work with law enforcement to stop human trafficking. Kutcher testified in 2017 before Congress about the dangers of human trafficking.
Current and former foster youth are among the most vulnerable of being trafficked. Roughly 60 percent of all child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system, according to the National Foster Youth Institute.
Because of their early childhood trauma, frequent moves and many times a lack of connection to healthy adults, youth in foster care can easily become victims of human trafficking. Social media can serve as a gateway connection to those youth, according to the Love146 campaign.
“The youth we work with told us repeatedly that Facebook was where their trafficker connected to them,” Mamis said. “It’s a slow, slow process of getting into a child’s head. It’s a progression of measured contact. Some kids are more vulnerable than others.”
But Facebook may be able to impact the outcome for many children.
“Just changing the default settings could save kids,” Mamis said.