Teenage girl auctioned off on Facebook without social media firm's bosses noticing

'That a girl could be sold for marriage on the world’s biggest social networking site in this day and age is beyond belief'

Jon Sharman
Wednesday 21 November 2018 14:26
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A father was able to auction off his teenage daughter for marriage on Facebook despite the social media giant having a 30,000-strong community moderation team.

Children’s charity Plan International said five men in South Sudan had bid to wed the 17-year-old, possibly including high-ranking government officials.

A wedding ceremony was held on 3 November in the country’s Eastern Lakes State region, the charity said, but Facebook only became aware of the auction six days later – more than two weeks after it was originally posted.

“This barbaric use of technology is reminiscent of latter-day slave markets,” George Otim, the charity’s South Sudan country director, said in a statement. “That a girl could be sold for marriage on the world’s biggest social networking site in this day and age is beyond belief.

“While it is common for dowries to be used in marriages in South Sudanese culture, nothing can excuse the way this girl, who is still a child, has been treated as nothing more than an object, sold off to the bidder prepared to offer the most money and goods.”

The charity urged the government of South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, to suspend any officials found to have been involved.

More than half of women aged between 20 and 24 in South Sudan had been married before they reached 18, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) data. Nine per cent were married before age 15.

Plan International said the girl’s father auctioned received 500 cows, three cars and $10,000 in exchange for his daughter, after putting her up for auction late last month.

The CNN news channel reported that the auction had been posted on 25 October. Facebook told The Independent it became aware of the girl’s father’s post on 9 November and removed it within 24 hours.

A Facebook spokeswoman said: “Any form of human trafficking, whether posts, pages, ads or groups, is not allowed on Facebook. We removed the post and permanently disabled the account belonging to the person who posted this to Facebook.

“We’re always improving the methods we use to identify content that breaks our policies, including doubling our safety and security team to more than 30,000 and investing in technology.”

News of the auction emerged as Facebook came under renewed scrutiny over its response to Russia‘s election influence campaign, and its ability to respond to disinformation more widely.

Employees at Mark Zuckerberg‘s company had been aware of Moscow’s attempt to influence the 2016 US presidential election for longer than it had previously admitted, according to a New York Times report last week.

Facebook also hired a public relations firm to discredit critics of the social network by linking their funding to philanthropist George Soros, the newspaper reported.

Alex Stamos, its chief security officer, said operations head Sheryl Sandberg had “yelled at me” when he revealed that he had “no confidence that we’d found out everything the Russians were up to, and it was quite possible that things would get worse before we built the teams and invented the technology necessary to stop it”.

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The company is also still reeling from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and its top executives have faced further calls to submit to questions by politicians in several countries.

Mr Zuckerberg has insisted he has no plans to step down as chairman despite criticism of Facebook’s business practices.

“That’s not the plan,” he told CNN. “I am currently not thinking that makes sense.”

He added that Ms Sandberg was ”a really important part of this company and is leading a lot of the efforts to address a lot of the biggest issues that we have, and she’s been an important partner for me for 10 years and I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done together.”

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