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22 May, 2020 15:07

Facebook policing personal messages won’t really save children from abuse, but it WILL bring us closer to 1984

Facebook policing personal messages won’t really save children from abuse, but it WILL bring us closer to 1984

Facebook’s “rebel shareholders” want to review potential risks that a new end-to-end encryption service could allow for increased exploitation of children by sexual predators – but why wait until now to kick up a fuss?

We collectively scratch our heads today in bewilderment at how someone in Victorian times could walk into a chemist and freely buy cocaine, opium and even arsenic over the counter. It’s also madness to think that the most harmful of opiates – horse, smack, junk, H… call it what you like – was unregulated and sold legally in the USA until Congress passed the so-called anti-Heroin Act in 1924.

Similarly, I reckon future historians will look back on today’s society in utter horror at our unregulated approach to the internet. The World Wide Web is the Wild West of our times – it is full of cowboys and we need a digital sheriff to keep us safe.

But Facebook’s rebel shareholders are sorely mistaken if they genuinely believe society at large will somehow benefit from their efforts to hamper or curtail Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to introduce end-to-end encryption on all messages.

They now want Facebook to review the potential risks of any“increased sexual exploitation of children” with such a messaging service – a move that follows claims from the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network that it would turn the social media giant into a haven for paedophiles.

I don’t buy into the theory that Facebook is “already the main hub for child sex abuse,” as is being alleged. Yes, it’s probably the “most popular” social app for perverts to groom the guileless, but much of the sordid and evil deed – such as the buying and selling of obscene pornographic material and human trafficking – is conducted on the Dark Web. 

Also, why would these twisted individuals suddenly switch over to Facebook’s security-improved message service when they’ve already got a few other platforms – as well as countless encrypted message services – to use?

And before anybody starts accusing me of being soft on these sexual predators, you should note I have strongly advocated in the past for the introduction of compulsory chemical castration for them, which you can read here.

So keeping that in mind, I feel what the Facebook shareholders are proposing is nothing short of being self-serving at best, or self-sabotage at worst. And – to quote how Shakespeare eloquently put it in ‘Hamlet’ – Mark Zuckerberg will end up being “hoist with his own petard” if he allows them to get away with this s**t. It’ll blow up in their faces if they allow any competition to stay ahead of the game. 

In truth, these shareholders clearly only want to save face here by asking the Facebook board to draw up a report that would “address the potential ‘adverse’ impacts on children and the company’s reputation as well as its ability to operate if regulators take action,” as reported in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday.

They are only kicking up a stink – a futile one too, seeing as Mark Zuckerberg has a greater voting power – because they’re running scared after Five Eyes threatened a legal challenge against Facebook’s plans to introduce this impenetrable technology.

But any monitoring of private messages – no matter how well-intended – will only set a dangerous precedent. It brings us into Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ territory and will slowly lead to a totalitarian society in all but name. How is allowing Facebook to monitor private messages – or, God forbid, allow the FBI to read them – any more acceptable than gaining access to people’s mailboxes to read their letters?

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It seems like these “rebels” are publicly raising their arms with off-the-record briefings to media outlets merely because they don’t want to be accused at cocktail parties of being enablers of any immoral or criminal activities. It’s their (wrong) way of washing their hands. 

But here’s a question they should be asked over those drinks: Facebook already reads everybody’s messages, which is obviously unethical –  but surely it’s even more unethical that they aren’t even reporting any sick suspects? 

Instead, they now want to “warn” under-18s when they might receive a message from a potential sicko.  So they are going to monitor messages? How’s that in line with the encryption plans? And if they do, but child abuse on the platform continues, then clearly the mechanism doesn’t really work, does it?

This is just sitting-on-the-fence stuff. Instead of sitting on their hands, these board members need to be more proactive in coming up with practical ways to protect our children on the highways and byways of this Wild West internet. As I wrote last year in my Irish Sunday Mirror column, “It’s disturbing how our children are being robbed of their innocence every single day by a simple wrong click of a button when surfing the Wild West of the Internet without a digital sheriff.”

The internet needs a mandatory age verification system – a digital passport, if you will – which the British government had bigged up as a great idea, only then to shamefully pull out of implementing it at the last minute in 2019. Children should be policed online, in the same society at large doesn’t tolerate minors purchasing alcohol, or smoking, or even vaping now.

If we want to ‘cure’ society of such sick sexual perversions we need to look at cutting the online source material itself, as this will help to ensure we don’t help give birth to future generations of corrupt minds. I’m certainly not a prude, but there’s much disturbing content to be found on “mainstream” porn sites, which gives impressionable young boys either unrealistic expectations or the false belief it’s acceptable to treat someone like a piece of meat. 

Exposing youngsters to online porn can lead to acts of violence because it “increases the likelihood of perpetrating sexual assault,” according to one leading expert, Dr Michael Flood of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University.

As I wrote last year in another Sunday column: “We can’t realistically expect parents to police their children’s activities on the Internet 24/7. Even with filters it is still possible for kids to read about Momo or those fake adverts for erectile dysfunctional medication.”  

We need social media giants to come up with practical solutions, such as supervised kids-only versions of Facebook, Instagram or YouTube – just like there is with Netflix. It’s absurd how impressionable 13-year-olds can have their own Facebook page; this just plays into the hands of predators using social media to groom children.

Why aren’t Facebook board members focusing on this much bigger problem instead? I reckon all tech firms would immediately get their act together to better protect our kids online if threatened with major fines.

Putting aside the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re definitely living in a f****d-up world regardless when I find myself taking the side of the narcissistic and deeply unlikeable Mark Zuckerberg. I hope he fights tooth and nail against allowing any access whatsoever to personal messages, because otherwise we’re looking at the erosion of our right to privacy. 1984 is just right around the corner, if we’re not careful.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.