A spam message has led thousands of Facebook users to share child porn

A spam message has led thousands of Facebook users to share child porn

Mark Zuckerberg recently admitted that 2017 was "a tough year" for Facebook - and that's despite the reported 61 per cent surge in profits last quarter. It's easy to see why: the billion dollar company has been steeped in controversy which has managed to somewhat overshadow its positive achievements. Indeed, paranoid fears on both ends of the political spectrum that Russian hackers, responsible for the dissemination of fake news, played an integral part in the 2016 US presidential election, got a lot of stockholders worried, regardless of whether or not the purported Russian collusion was true or not.

Last week, Democratic legislators demanded more details from Silicon Valley superstars like Facebook and Twitter about whether or not Russian spambots were being used to push stories and censor others on their platforms. In response to these concerns, Zuckerberg pledged that: "In 2018, we’re focused on making sure Facebook isn’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s wellbeing and for society ... The world feels anxious and divided and that has played out in Facebook." But unfortunately, this hasn't been the only scandal to play out.

A smartphone user tapping the Facebook app. Credit: Getty

This month a shocking video, which appeared to show the graphic and disturbing sexual assault of a child, was inadvertently viewed and shared by a number of users who believed that they were watching a viral anti-paedophile awareness campaign. The explicit and exploitative footage was seen by thousands of people before Facebook's moderators managed to track down the source and stop it from spreading. The child pornography allegedly showed an image of a six-year-old girl being abused by an older man.

The video was sent as spam to a number of inboxes by bots and was accompanied by a message which urged users to share the video with friends so that the culprit could be identified. Unfortunately, this meant that a number of good Samaritans took the request at face value and went on to inadvertently distribute the pornography, all in the good name of spreading awareness. Unfortunately, the voluntary activists didn't realise that in the United States, the distribution of child pornography is illegal regardless of context. Even if you were sharing images of the sexual abuse of minors in an effort to stop child pornography, the law still sees it as spreading child porn and people guilty of it can still be lawfully prosecuted.

The signal-boosted video has been described as a "nationwide epidemic" spreading across the United States by police investigators in Orlando, Florida. That precinct alone has received over 50 reports from people who have been exposed to the child abuse. OPD sergeant Tami Edwards, also a member of the Department of Justice's task force ICAC, (Internet Crimes Against Children), claims that the video first emerged online in August of 2017, but that the police and Facebook were not made aware of it until February 2 2018.

Edwards stated: "It has picked up viral status on social media and people are blindly sharing it in the interest of trying to identify the suspect and the child ... We don’t know how the video originated on Facebook Messenger and other social media apps, we know the caption was to share ... It’s outside the state of Florida, so, therefore, we are comfortable saying the victim and the suspect are not currently in Orlando and it did not originate here."

A woman using Facebook on a laptop at night. Credit: Getty

A Facebook spokesperson later added: “We reported the video to the appropriate authorities, and we have used Photo DNA technology to automatically prevent future uploads and shares. Sharing any kind of child exploitative imagery using Facebook or Messenger is not acceptable - even to express outrage. We are and will continue to be aggressive in preventing and removing such content from our community.”

The company also claimed: "Upon further investigation into the matter of the CEI content being shared, we can confirm that this particular video was not in our Photo DNA bank which usually means it has not previously been uploaded to Facebook ... We believe we identified the man depicted in the video. His Facebook and Instagram accounts have been deleted. We continue to liaise with the police on this case."

As a result of the efforts of police investigators and Facebook's moderators, a suspect has since turned himself in. Germaine Moore, from Millbrook, Alabama, who has a prior conviction for the sexual assault of three young relatives in Alabama and Michigan respectively, is suspected of being the man committing the indecent act in the video, although the identity of the person who originally shared the video on Facebook messenger remains unknown.

Moore raped three children at his mother's home in Detroit and at his house in Alabama between 2011 and 2017. The authorities quickly identified Moore as a possible suspect and searched his Millbrook home, before he surrendered to police at approximately 3.30am on Tuesday, February 6. He is currently detained in the Elmore County Jail in Wetumpka and has been charged with two counts of child sexually abusive activity.

If you suspect any material you have seen or have been sent online of containing child abuse, then make no attempt to share or open it. Instead, contact the police immediately, and visit Stop It Now for further advice on the subject.