Last month, men in South Sudan engaged in a bidding war over a 17-year-old girl after they saw a post on Facebook advertising her for marriage. Just a few days after the post circulated online, she was purchased by a wealthy businessman to be his wife, according to Reuters.
It’s yet another example of how Facebook’s platform has been abused in developing countries in recent years. In Myanmar, over 700,000 members of the Rohingya community were forced to flee the country due to ethnic violence the UN has linked to racists posts spread on Facebook. Thousands more were killed. In Libya, Facebook has been used by rival militias to spread fake news and hate-filled messages which worked to multiply the violence in the country. Now, the platform has been used by people hoping to win big dowries by selling an underage girl.
The original post marketing the 17-year-old was published on October 25th. It was only removed by Facebook on November 9th, days after the girl is said to have been married. According to a spokesperson for Plan International, a girls’ rights activist group, the post went viral in South Sudan. “So anyone who was on Facebook in South Sudan was well-aware of this situation far before the rest of the world,” they said.
It’s unclear why it took over two weeks to remove the post. In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Any form of human trafficking — whether posts, pages, ads, or groups is not allowed on Facebook. We removed the post and permanently disabled the account belonging to the person who posted this to Facebook.”
“We’re always improving the methods we use to identify content that breaks our policies, including doubling our safety and security team to more than 30,000 and investing in technology,” the Facebook spokesperson said.
Child marriage is already illegal in South Sudan, but the practice has continued despite efforts from the government and advocacy to end it. This is the first known effort of people using Facebook to make these illegal exchanges, which led to one of the largest reported dowries ever received in the area. Advocates fear the high payment could spark more interest in trafficking girls for marriage on the platform in the future. According to the Plan International spokesperson, “it attracted more attention and gave those who might have thought about participating a greater reason to do it because of the kudos attached.”
“This is something that is even more dangerous and something that we don’t want to see happening again or becoming a popular movement,” the Plan International spokesperson said.