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Senator urges Facebook, Twitter to crack down on exploitation activities
This file photo taken on October 21, 2020, shows the logo of the multinational American Internet technology and services company, Google (center), the American online social media and social networking service, Facebook (Top R), Snapchat (Bottom R), Twitter (top L) and Instagram (bottom L) on a computer screen in Lille.
Denis Charlet / AFP

Senator urges Facebook, Twitter to crack down on exploitation activities

(Philstar.com) - March 3, 2021 - 11:09am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 11:53 a.m.) — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday called on Facebook and Twitter to take action against the criminal activities perpetrated on their platforms, citing in specific the online exploitation of women and children.

"It's not just fake news that easily spreads on social media but also the abuse of our youth and women," Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, said in Filipino.

"Social media platforms that still are not able to address this growing problem should be made accountable."

The panel chaired by Hontiveros on Tuesday held a hearing on proposed measures against the abuse and exploitation of women and children online. Senate Bill 2068 or the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) Law, among the measures tackled, imposes duties on social media platforms.

But Facebook snubbed the committee's invitation to the inquiry, earning the ire of three senators.

"These abuses are happening in plain sight for lack of a better term in these social media accounts. They're making money out of these activities and they could have at least sent a representative during our hearing," Sen. Francis Pangilinan said partially in Filipino.

Sen. Pia Cayetano echoed Pangilinan, saying she found it "extremely disturbing" that Facebook skipped the hearing.

At the urging of Pangilinan and Cayetano, Hontiveros said she would consider holding Facebook in contempt.

Facebook to attend next hearing

In a separate statement released later Wednesday, Hontiveros announced that Facebook would be attending the next installment of the hearing, which will center on the role of social media platforms in online abuse and exploitation in the Philippines.

"We have heard their explanation that their policy team did not receive the invitation that was sent, and we will call a next hearing to provide a platform for Facebook and other social media outfits to explain their side and open themselves to questions from legislators," she said.

However, the senator did not disclose whether her office sent out similar invitations to Twitter and other social media giants.

During Tuesday's hearing, a representative from the International Justice Mission noted that reports of online sexual exploitation surged amid the pandemic.

Lawyer Lawrence Aritao, national director of prosecutions for IJM, said that in 2020, they received over 1.2 million reports of online sexual exploitation — almost triple of the around 400,000 reports registered in 2019.

The National Bureau of Investigation also confirmed to senators that Facebook and Twitter are regularly utilized by syndicates for human trafficking activities.

"[W]e have observed that... there are a lot of child exploitation materials and also prostitution being promoted, not only in Facebook but also on Twitter and other social media platforms," said lawyer Janet Francisco, chief of the NBI's anti-human trafficking division.

Francisco added that even telcos are uncooperative with the NBI when it comes to cases of child abuse and exploitation.

She further told senators that Facebook reports illegal activities on its platform to the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a non-profit established by US Congress in 1984, and urged senators to consider crafting a law that would mandate the social media giant to make similar reports to the Philippine government.

"Social networks should start taking this issue seriously. The lives and futures of our women and children are on the line," Hontiveros said partially in Filipino.

"We always welcome innovation, but not if it comes at the expense of the Filipino people." 

— Bella Perez-Rubio 

FACEBOOK ONLINE CHILD SEX ABUSE ONLINE SEXUAL EXPLOITATION RISA HONTIVEROS SENATE SOCIAL MEDIA TWITTER
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