An investigation into the exploitation of children on the Meta platform led to the arrest of three men

An investigation into the exploitation of children on the Meta platform led to the arrest of three men

An investigation by the New Mexico Attorney General into the potential dangers of the Meta platform has resulted in the arrest of three men charged with attempted child sexual abuse.

The arrest comes after a months-long investigation by the attorney general’s office into the risk of sexual exploitation of children on Facebook and Instagram. The investigation also formed the basis of a lawsuit against Meta, filed in December, accusing the tech giant of creating a “breeding ground” for child predators.

Meta has rejected the claims in the lawsuit and said it offers dozens of safety tools for children and parents.

As part of the investigation, the attorney general’s office created multiple fake Facebook and Instagram profiles posing as children, who the suit alleges were served sexually suggestive content and, in some cases, were pressured by other users to post pornographic content about themselves. .

The fake child accounts were also allegedly contacted and solicited for sex by three New Mexico adult men whose arrests were announced by the attorney general on Wednesday. Two of the three men were arrested at a motel, where they allegedly believed they were going to meet a 12-year-old girl, based on their conversations with the fraudulent account.

“This is (Meta CEO) Mark Zuckerberg’s fault,” New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez said in a news conference announcing the arrests on Wednesday. “This is the fault of a company that has incredible resources at its disposal and has chosen time and time again to put profits over the interests of children.”

A spokesperson for Meta told CNN that “child exploitation is a horrific crime and we’ve spent years building technology to combat it and to support law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting the criminals behind it.”

“This is an ongoing fight, where persistent criminals are evolving their tactics across platforms to try and circumvent protections,” the spokesperson said. “We use cutting-edge technology, hire child safety experts, report content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and share information and tools with other companies and nonprofits to help eradicate predators across the many platforms they use.”

News of the arrest could add to the growing scrutiny that Meta — like other social media companies — faces for the safety of young users on its platform. Lawmakers, parents and online safety advocates, as well as several separate lawsuits, have raised concerns about the impact of the Meta platform on the mental health, body image and overall well-being of teenagers. In January, Zuckerberg apologized to families who said their children had been harmed by using social media during a Senate committee hearing on youth online safety.

In January — after Torrez’s lawsuit was filed and ahead of the Senate hearing — Meta rolled out additional youth safety features, including updating teens’ default privacy settings to block anyone they don’t follow from messaging them, including other teens. The move comes after Meta in 2021 restricted adults over the age of 19 from messaging teens who don’t follow them.

The company also said in December that it had rolled out technology to proactively detect and disable accounts displaying suspicious behavior and that it was forming a Child Safety Task Force.

But Torrez said during a news conference Wednesday that the arrest underscores the ongoing real-world risks to children from the Meta platform.

One of the New Mexico men arrested this week, 52-year-old Fernando Clyde, allegedly added one of the attorney general’s fake Facebook accounts as a friend and started conversations in February. “Throughout the conversation, Fernando sent her private photos and talked to her about sex,” a press release from the attorney general’s office stated.

Clyde is charged with one count of solicitation of a child through an electronic communication device of a child under the age of 13 and one count of attempted felony sexual penetration of a minor. A second man, Marlon Kellywood, 29, faces the same charges. Attorneys for Clyde and Kellywood could not immediately be reached for comment.

A third man, 47-year-old Christopher Reynolds, was arrested and charged with one count of child solicitation through an electronic communication device of a child under 13 after police were alerted by the mother of an 11-year-old who allegedly received messages from him. Investigators then befriended her from the fake child’s account, and Reynolds started conversations and sent sexually explicit messages, according to the attorney general’s office. Reynolds’ attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The fraudulent accounts used by these suspects reflect the experiences that children can and are having on these platforms,” Torrez said in a press release. He added that the investigation showed “that using the Meta social media platform not only endangers children in the virtual world but, more importantly, it is a space actively used by sexual predators to hunt, nurture and abuse children in the real world .”

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