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Facebook Refuses to Remove Flagged Child Pornography, ISIS Videos

Britain's The Times reported that Facebook refused to remove potentially illegal terrorist and child pornography content despite it being flagged by users. This content potentially puts the social media giant at risk of criminal prosecution.

"Last month The Times created a fake profile on Facebook to investigate extremist content," Alexi Mostrous, the paper's head of investigations, reported Thursday. "It did not take long to come across dozens of objectionable images posted by a mix of jihadists and those with a sexual interest in children."

Mostrous reported that a Times reporter posed as an IT professional in his thirties, befriended more than 100 supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS), and joined groups promoting lewd or pornographic images of children. He then "flagged" many of the images and ISIS videos.

Facebook moderators reportedly kept online pro-jihadist posts including one praising ISIS attacks "from London to Chechnya to Russia and now Bangladesh in less than 48 hours," promising to bring war "in the heart of your homes." The site's moderators also refused to remove an official news bulletin posted by the Islamic State praising the slaughter of 91 "Christian warriors" in the Palm Sunday bombings of two Egyptian churches.

Moderators, who are based in Ireland, California, Texas, and India, also kept up a video showing the gruesome beheading of hostages by ISIS terrorists. Facebook said it did not break its own rules against graphic violence when it kept up a video with a masked British jihadist holding a knife over a beheaded man, saying, "The spark has been lit here in Iraq. Here we are burying the first American crusader."

Facebook also left up dozens of pornographic cartoons depicting child abuse, which Mostrous argued are likely illegal under a 2009 British law. "Intermingled with the cartoons, posted on forums with titles such as Raep Me, are pictures of real children, including several likely to be illegal."

The Times also reported that Facebook kept up a video which appeared to show a young child being violently abused.

"In my view, many of the images and videos identified by The Times are illegal," Julian Knowles, a Queen's Counsel (an eminent British lawyer appointed by Queen Elizabeth II), told the paper. "One video appears to depict a sexual assault on a child. That would undoubtedly break UK indecency laws. The video showing a beheading is very likely to be a publication that encourages terrorism."

Knowles added that he "would argue that the actions of people employed by Facebook to keep up or remove reported posts should be regarded as the actions of Facebook as a corporate entity."

"If someone reports an illegal image to Facebook and a senior moderator signs off on keeping it up, Facebook is at risk of committing a criminal offense because the company might be regarded as assisting or encouraging its publication and distribution," the lawyer concluded.