Editorial: The need for improved health and safety measures in online child protection

The Role of Whistleblowers in Exposing Social Media Harms

As the history of social media continues to be written, there is an undeniable need for a chapter dedicated to the whistleblowers who have played a crucial role in shedding light on the darker aspects of online platforms. In 2021, Frances Haugen, a former employee of Facebook (now Meta), released research that brought to attention Instagram’s detrimental effects on children. This was followed by Arturo Béjar, another former employee, who testified before Congress about the sexual harassment his daughter faced on the platform. Béjar’s testimony has since become a key component in a lawsuit brought against Meta by the attorney general of New Mexico, Raúl Torrez.

Recent investigations have revealed disturbing findings about the extent of online sex trafficking and sexual harassment of children on Meta platforms. The company’s own documents indicate that approximately 100,000 children, mostly girls, are subjected to sexual harassment daily on Facebook and Instagram. Experts have raised concerns that job cuts at Meta and other companies, particularly in moderation and safety teams, will exacerbate these issues. Additionally, Meta’s refusal to learn from past tragedies, such as the case of teenager Molly Russell, whose suicide was influenced by harmful content on the platform, has sparked further criticism.

Furthermore, there are allegations that Meta enables adults to message and groom children, as well as complaints from advertisers about potentially illegal content. While Meta denies the claims made in the lawsuit, the volume of evidence pointing to various online harms cannot be ignored. It is evident that the regulatory framework governing online platforms has been lacking, with decisions made in the past that have contributed to the current state of affairs.

In the UK, efforts are being made to introduce stronger regulation through the online harms bill, influenced by civil society organizations and campaigners for online safety. However, there is still much debate about the necessary measures to protect children from online exploitation. The trade-offs between freedom and safety in the digital space are increasingly being scrutinized, especially as evidence of the links between online and offline sexual abuse continues to emerge.

In conclusion, whistleblowers like Arturo Béjar have brought attention to the need for internet giants like Meta to take greater responsibility for the well-being of their users, especially children. As society grapples with the impact of social media, it is imperative that measures are put in place to ensure a safer online environment for all.

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