HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Facebook, one of the world's largest social media companies, is now being sued for its failure to stop facilitating human trafficking on its website. The lawsuit was filed in Harris County District Court on Monday, October 1.
The lawsuit claims the social media giant violated a Texas Civil Law that makes it illegal for businesses to turn a blind-eye to human trafficking.
The lawsuit's plaintiff is a Houston-area sex trafficking victim, referred to only as Jane Doe, to protect the girl's identity.
Her attorney, Annie McAdams said in 2012, the 16-year-old girl was first "friended" by another Facebook user with whom she had mutual friends; that user then began messaging her privately, making false promises offering money and modeling jobs. The lawsuit continues to say that when the 16-year-old girl had a fight with her mom, the predator swept in.
"He repeatedly told her, 'You're so pretty, you could be a model.' And when you're 16-years-old, you like being told you're pretty. So when she gets into a fight with her mom, she believes she can go off and get her own apartment. Evidence will show that within hours of her being picked up, she was violently beaten, raped and forced into the sex trafficking trade," McAdams said.
McAdams said Facebook has provided predators with an unrestricted platform to directly access young children and sexually exploit them. She criticized the company for lacking the appropriate security filters, identity verification and education warnings.
"They just rolled that platform out when it comes to political ads. If they can verify who posted a political ad, they can verify the users before they start interacting with our children. It goes back to Facebook being in every one of our homes. These predators are able to reach in and contact our children directly, at times during school hours, at times at night when parents might be asleep," McAdams said.
"If you profit over connecting people, then you have an obligation to make sure those connections are positive and safe," McAdams continued.
The lawsuit could be the first of many that target social media companies like Facebook, who McAdams said often plays a pivotal part in the grooming process for predators.
"It starts with them being able to identify maybe a kid that's having a hard time, maybe a kid that's struggling with self esteem or image issues," McAdams said.
McAdams adds that Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, did not dispute that the company has warning issues in his April 2018 testimony before Congress.
"He by his own admission admits that they need to do a better job about warning. Jane Doe and the team we've assembled to fight this case certainly isn't going to wait for Mark Zuckerberg to decide how they're going to protect our children, or decide how they're going to do that," McAdams said.
McAdams said she hopes to push this case to trial by early spring of 2019.
Facebook sent FOX 26 this response to the lawsuit on Wednesday:
"Human trafficking is abhorrent and is not allowed on Facebook. We use technology to thwart this kind of abuse and we encourage people to use the reporting links found across our site so that our team of experts can review the content swiftly. Facebook also works closely with anti-trafficking organization and other technology companies, and we report all apparent instances of child sexual exploitation to NCMEC.”