Meta expands tools for ‘helping teens avoid sextortion scams’ after bombshell Senate hearing

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By Dan Sears

Meta said Tuesday it is expanding support to help teen social media users avoid getting trapped in “sextortion” scams – just one week after Senate lawmakers blasted Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill for failing to stop a nationwide “crisis.”

Zuckerberg has faced intense scrutiny over Meta’s alleged role in the rise of financial “sextortion” scams, where criminals trick kids into sending sexually explicit photos or videos and then threaten to release them unless they pay.

Now, the embattled Facebook and Instagram parent company said it has expanded access to a tool called “Take It Down,” which will be available in 25 languages, according to the announcement.

Meta said the expansion would make the tool “accessible to millions more teens around the world.”

Developed with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), the tool allows users to anonymously add a digital “fingerprint” to sexually explicit photos. Once added, the “fingerprint” can be used to track and quickly remove copies of intimate images to stop them from spreading, according to Meta.

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Meta also said it worked with nonprofit Thorn to “develop updated guidance for teens on how to take back control if someone is sextorting them.” The additions to Meta’s “Safety Center” also include guides for parents and teachers on how to provide support for impacted teens.


Meta
Meta was called out for inaction on the issue. DenPhoto – stock.adobe.com

A page in Meta’s safety center gives teens advice, titled “five ways to respond to sextortion.”

It includes urging them to “stop responding and do not pay,” and “talk to someone you trust, like a close friend, teacher or parent” if faced with sex-related scam, among other tips.

During last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sex exploitation, Democratic Chair Dick Durbin decried the “explosion” in sextortion cases. In the 10 months from January through October last year, NCMEC received more than 22,000 reports related to the crime – up from just 139 for all of 2021.

Durbin blasted Meta and other social media firms for their’ “constant pursuit of engagement and profit over basic safety” that puts “all our kids and grandkids at risk” and has fueled a “crisis in America.”

Elsewhere, Sen. Lindsey Graham told Zuckerberg, “you have blood on your hands,” and highlighted the tragic case of South Carolina Rep. Brandon Guffey’s teenage son, Gavin, who died by suicide after being targeted in a sextortion scam on Instagram. Guffey’s family is now suing the company.


Teen using social media
Meta said it has expanded access to the “Take It Down” tool to 25 languages. Odua Images – stock.adobe.com

Zuckerberg also delivered a high-profile apology to the parents of online sex exploitation victims – some of whom held photos of their children aloft while the Meta executive spoke in the packed hearing room.

Critics, including New Mexico attorney General Raul Torrez, who is leading his state’s lawsuit against Meta, blasted the apology as “too little, too late.”

Zuckerberg faced more criticism last week following revelations that Meta’s first-ever dividend would give him an annual $700 million windfall.

At the same time, the billionaire’s personal fortune swelled by $28 billion in a single day as investors reacted positively to Meta’s strong earnings report.

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Meta said its latest steps were meant to give “more teens control over their intimate images, helping teens  — and their parents and teachers  — feel better equipped against those trying to exploit them, and supporting creators and safety organizations around the world as part of a global campaign to raise awareness of ways to prevent sextortion.”

Last week, Meta further tightened restrictions so that teen users cannot receive any direct messages from strangers.

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