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Internal documents reveal Facebook knows its platforms are being used to exploit Filipina maids in the Middle East — AP

By AYIE LICSI Published Oct 26, 2021 12:54 pm

Aside from knowing its products harm teens' mental health, Facebook also knew about how its platforms are being used as a tool to trade and sell maids in the Middle East as early as 2018.

According to the internal documents obtained by the Associated Press, Facebook acknowledged seeing posts of Filipina maids complaining about being abused on social media.

“In our investigation, domestic workers frequently complained to their recruitment agencies of being locked in their homes, starved, forced to extend their contracts indefinitely, unpaid, and repeatedly sold to other employers without their consent," the document read.

On Facebook and Instagram, there are accounts that post photos of African and South Asian maids with their ages and prices listed. 

With the rise of these exploitative ads in the Mideast, the social giant said that it was taking the problem seriously, especially after Apple threatened to pull its apps from the App Store two years ago.

Protesters calling for justice after Joanna Demafelis' and other OFW maids' abuse in 2018.

What actions are being taken?

Job seekers in the country are choosing to turn to Facebook rather than private recruiting agencies, said Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) head Bernard Olalia. With some of the illegal Facebook and Instagram accounts misusing the office's logos, there are Filipinos who believe that they are endorsed by POEA.

What has Facebook done in response to this? The company has disabled over 1,000 accounts and 129,121 pieces of content linked to human exploitation. In 2021, it suggested a pilot program where it would show pop-up messages and banner ads, targeted at Filipinas, warning them about the dangers of working overseas.

AP noted that it's unclear whether this program ever began but Facebook said it is delivering "targeted prevention and support ad campaigns" in the Philippines to mitigate the risk of exploitation.

'Profit over safety'

Olalia and POEA have been working with Facebook for the last two years to flag suspicious accounts, but more are still popping up. The office even has a team specifically tasked to monitor Facebook posts.

Still, the trade and selling of maids remain rampant on Facebook as listings can still be found on its websites. And with those kinds of accounts present online, Filipino job seekers remain vulnerable to possible trafficking on the platform.

"It will affect their income so they don't want to address this," Olalia said on Facebook's limited crackdown.

Former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen and the Facebook Papers project—collaborated among 17 American news organizations—exposed how the company reportedly prioritized profit over its users' safety.

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen.

In early October, Haugen revealed that Facebook was aware of the harms its platform causes, but is doing less to resolve these issues.

More whistleblowers are coming forward, too, with one of the latest being a former member of the company's integrity team. The person, who has chosen to remain anonymous, seconded Haugen's claims of the company putting profits before efforts to fight hate speech and misinformation.