(The Center Square) – Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody on Monday called on Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking to account for how Meta is being used to facilitate human trafficking and sex exploitation.
Moody did so while announcing what she described as the “stunning” and “disturbing” findings of a statewide investigation that found that Meta platforms are being used more than any other social media platforms by human traffickers to commit crimes.
It appears to be the first statewide inquiry and request of its kind.
According to the state’s recent investigation, over half of all reported instances of social media platforms used in Florida human trafficking cases since 2019 involve Meta platforms. They include Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.
“Before launching new products or wasting time preparing for a cage match that will likely never happen, Zuckerberg should be working to make Meta’s existing platforms safer for users and to prevent vulnerable people from being forced into illicit sex work,” Moody said Monday when announcing the results of a state investigation. “The findings of our statewide survey and other reports make it clear that Meta platforms are the preferred social media applications for human traffickers looking to prey on vulnerable people. Zuckerberg needs to immediately turn his attention to this public safety threat and testify to our council about what Meta is doing to prevent its platforms from being used to assist, facilitate or support human trafficking.”
The Statewide Council on Human Trafficking was established by the Florida legislature. Moody chairs the 15-member council, which works with law enforcement to combat human trafficking and produces annual reports on human trafficking.
In 2022, the state legislature passed HB 615, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law, tasking the council with investigating the frequency with which social media platforms were being used to assist, facilitate or support human trafficking in Florida. The council presented its preliminary findings to the legislature in January and announced the findings publicly on Monday.
Its findings stem from a survey sent to 80 law enforcement agencies, including 67 sheriff’s offices and several police departments. Of the 66 responses it received, 32 agencies reported 376 human trafficking investigations since 2019. The majority, 271, involved social media platforms being used to facilitate human trafficking. Among them, the majority, 146, involved Meta applications.
Moody also sent a letter to Zuckerberg on Monday requesting him to appear before the council to explain what Meta’s plans are “to stop human traffickers from using its platforms to advance this horrific crime.”
She requested Zuckerberg provide a response no later than Sept. 5. The council’s next meeting is Oct. 2. He has yet to issue a statement on the matter, however, his company has been fighting multiple lawsuits filed over the same topic for several years.
Meta “has long faced accusations that its platforms are a haven for sexual misconduct,” Reuters reports.
It’s currently being sued by hundreds of plaintiffs, including parents, school districts, and pension and investment funds that own stock in Meta.
The most recent lawsuit filed by the Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island alleges that Meta’s leadership and board haven’t protected their fiduciary interests because they’ve ignored “systemic evidence” of crimes against children being allegedly committed using its platforms.
The complaint specifically alleges that Meta’s executives and directors aren’t stopping Facebook and Instagram from being used to facilitate sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation. As a result, “the only logical inference is that the board has consciously decided to permit Meta’s platforms to promote and facilitate sex/human trafficking,” the complaint states.
Meta and Facebook have consistently fought the lawsuits filed in their respective courts, including at the Texas Supreme Court, where it lost.
In 2021, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that victims of sex trafficking could sue Facebook despite it using Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act as a defense.
Justice Blacklock said the justices “do not understand section 230 to ‘create a lawless no-man’s land on the Internet’ in which states are powerless to impose liability on websites that knowingly or intentionally participate in the evil of online human trafficking.” The court’s ruling also points out that “Congress recently amended section 230 to indicate that civil liability may be imposed on websites that violate state and federal human-trafficking laws.”
According to a 2022 Federal Human Trafficking report, Facebook was the number one social media platform used nationwide to recruit human trafficking victims from 2019-2022. Of the top 10 platforms evaluated in the report, Facebook and Instagram were used for 60% of the human trafficking recruitment identified.
According to a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s 2022 CyberTipline report by Electronic Service Providers, over 27 million, or 85%, of incidents reported were from Meta platforms.