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Facebook is still failing to remove images of child exploitation, investigation reveals

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Social network reported BBC journalists to police after they provided explicit images that had been flagged, but not removed

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A BBC investigation has revealed that Facebook users are continuing to exchange sexualized images of children through online groups, and the social network has come under criticism for failing to remove the obscene content. Of the 100 images that the BBC reported, Facebook removed only 18, saying that the remaining 82 did not violate its community standards. After the news organization alerted Facebook to the content, the company reported the journalists to police and cancelled an interview scheduled for last week, the BBC reports.

Facebook said it would improve its moderation systems after a 2016 BBC investigation showed that pedophiles were exchanging child pornography through secret groups. The BBC followed up by flagging 100 images using Facebook’s “report” button. The images included photos of minors in sexualized poses, groups where users posted stolen photos of children, and pages that were created for men interested in such content. Another image showed a comment asking for child pornography under a video of child abuse.

According to the BBC, Facebook agreed to an interview about the matter last week, on the condition that the news outlet provide examples of content that was reported and not taken down. After the BBC provided the material, Facebook reported the journalists to the UK's National Crime Agency.

Facebook later provided a statement to the BBC, saying that it has “now removed all items that were illegal or against our standards,” and that it is working “to improve our reporting and take-down measures.”

"When the BBC sent us such images we followed our industry's standard practice and reported them to CEOP,” the company added, referring to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

David Jordan, the BBC’s director of editorial policy, described Facebook’s decision as “extraordinary,” saying: “One can only assume that the Facebook executives were unwilling or certainly reluctant to engage in an interview or a debate about why these images are available on the Facebook site.”

Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other tech companies have begun incorporating so-called “hashing” technology to expedite the removal of child pornography and images of child exploitation. The technology applies a unique fingerprint to images that have been flagged, and prevents subsequent copies from being uploaded. Facebook also prohibits convicted sex offenders from creating accounts.

The BBC’s latest investigation has renewed criticism over Facebook’s content moderation policy, which has long been a point of contention among both free speech activists and public safety groups.