Senators Fire at Zuckerberg Over Facebook's Responsibility in Child-Bride Auction

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets with a group of entrepreneurs and innovators during a round-table discussion in St. Louis on Nov. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

WASHINGTON — Senators slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for not taking “real responsibility” for human-rights abuses on the social media platform after the company said it wasn’t aware of a child bride being auctioned on the site.

Vice reported last month that the 16-year-old girl’s family in South Sudan posted Oct. 25 on Facebook that they intended to put Nyalong Ngong Deng Jalang up for sale. Facebook says the post didn’t come to their attention until Nov. 9 and they took it down within 24 hours, but by that time it was too late — the girl had already been married off to a multimillionaire businessman who won the auction by offering 530 cows, three Land Cruiser V8s and $10,000.

Facebook has previously said that a lack of staffers who speak regional languages has at time led to violating posts slipping through the cracks. After the child-bride auction, the company noted that it has increased the size of its security team and added technology to detect and flag suspicious posts.

The letter sent to Zuckerberg by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) stressed that it’s “troubling” that human-rights groups reported the post to Facebook yet still waited for it to be reviewed and removed.

“South Sudanese law defines a child as anyone below 18 and states that every child has the right to be protected from early marriage. In South Sudan, approximately fifty-two percent of girls are married before age 18 and seventeen percent marry before they turn 15,” they wrote. “We find it unacceptable that your company is directly contributing to an abhorrent practice.”

Activists now worry that the bride fetching “such a high price could prompt others to use Facebook as a means for auctioning off girls.”

“Given the expansive reach of Facebook, and the repercussions from incidents such as this, you have a responsibility to put an immediate stop to these practices on all your platforms. While your company’s mission may be to ‘make the world more open and connected,’ the auction of a child bride on your platform is a human rights violation that threatens girls’ lives, health, and future prospects,” the senators continued. “It is time that Facebook start taking real responsibility for abuses wrought on its platforms. It is not enough to say that you were unaware of the problems on your site.”

Zuckerberg was asked to send the senators responses to a series of questions by Dec. 20, including why it took so long for the company to respond to the auction and what other steps they’re taking to prevent human trafficking on the social media site.

The lawmakers also want Zuckerberg to provide descriptions if he’s “aware of other instances of persons being sold, auctioned, or trafficked on any of your platforms.”