New Mexico AG going after social media companies 

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This is an exerpt of New Mexico In Depth’s mid-week newsletter that went out Wednesday, Feb. 28. We think it’s crucial to stay in touch and tell you what’s on our minds every week. Our newsletters aim to do just that. We’d like to hear what’s on your mind, as well. Or, got tips? What do we need to know? Contact us: [email protected]

Raúl Torrez announced this week he is expanding his agency’s examination into how Facebook and Instagram fail to prevent underage children from being exposed to predators on social media platforms.

New Mexico’s first-term Democratic attorney general, who alleged in a lawsuit last year that Meta, Facebook’s and Instagram’s parent company, doesn’t protect children from predators, took the action after last week’s publication of an investigation by the New York Times.

The Times’ investigation revealed that parents who create accounts to promote their underage children as influencers are in some cases exposing them to predation by men who often sexualize the children, turning them into objects of sexual fantasy and potentially worse. 

Headlined A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men, the Times’ story besieged readers with overwhelming detail as to how underage children on social media can find themselves sexualized to the point of becoming objects of sexual fantasy by some male subscribers.

“Thousands of accounts examined by The Times offer disturbing insights into how social media is reshaping childhood, especially for girls, with direct parental encouragement and involvement,” reads the Times’s story. “Some parents are the driving force behind the sale of photos, exclusive chat sessions and even the girls’ worn leotards and cheer outfits to mostly unknown followers. The most devoted customers spend thousands of dollars nurturing the underage relationships.”

“The large audiences boosted by men can benefit the families, The Times found. The bigger followings look impressive to brands and bolster chances of getting discounts, products and other financial incentives, and the accounts themselves are rewarded by Instagram’s algorithm with greater visibility on the platform, which in turn attracts more followers.”

Here is another passage from last week’s story:

Interacting with the men opens the door to abuse. Some flatter, bully and blackmail girls and their parents to get racier and racier images. The Times monitored separate exchanges on Telegram, the messaging app, where men openly fantasize about sexually abusing the children they follow on Instagram and extol the platform for making the images so readily available.”

Every parent should be aware of the findings of this New York Times investigation, including the response from Meta that “parents were responsible for the accounts and their content and could delete them anytime.”

In a follow-up story this week, the Times reported that Torrez’s agency, New Mexico’s Department of Justice, had requested “documentation from the social media company about subscriptions on Facebook and Instagram, which are frequently available on children’s accounts run by parents.”

Torrez alleges in the December suit that Meta has violated the state’s Unfair Practices Act, which prohibits “[u]nfair or deceptive trade practices and unconscionable trade practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” according to the complaint. 

Among other things, Torrez is asking for the court to impose civil penalties on each defendant named in the suit of up to $5,000 for each violation of that state law. 

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