AG Hammers Meta Over Alleged Child Predation

AG Raúl Torrez announces arrests following “Operation MetaPhile”

New Mexico law enforcement officials apprehended and arraigned three individuals accused of contacting and soliciting sex from underage decoy accounts on Meta following a months-long undercover investigation by the state Department of Justice, Attorney General Raúl Torrez said in a press conference Wednesday morning.

The investigation—coined Operation MetaPhile—identified three men with ages ranging from 29 to 52 who were communicating with decoy accounts of children under the age of 13. All three individuals sent pictures of their genitalia and talked with the supposed underage girls about having sex. Each of the arrests happened over the course of roughly two weeks, with the earliest taking place in late April. Two of the men face charges of child solicitation by electronic communication device and attempted criminal sexual penetration of a minor and one faces just the first charge, plus a third-degree felony.

“It is frankly a wake up call for all of us to understand just how serious these kinds of threats are,” Torrez said. “And the kind of practices that are currently allowed to exist in the Meta platform is something I believe this draws attention to.”

In every catch, Torrez added, “the individuals were able to find and locate these children through the design features and algorithm” of Meta, noting “parents should be acutely aware of the real-world harm that exists in utilizing these platforms.”

In December 2023, the New Mexico DOJ filed a lawsuit against Meta, Mark Zuckerberg and other related platforms including Instagram and Facebook regarding the protection of children from sexual abuse and human trafficking. The complaint, Torrez says, describes “the way in which Meta’s algorithms and features enable” the behaviors of online child predators and traffickers.

Yet when asked if Operation MetaPhile may form part of that lawsuit, Torrez said “there’s no intention at this point to bring those allegations into this case” because Operation MetaPhile is “focused on identifying real-life predators.” But “it’s too early to tell,” he added.

“I’m more interested in the actual actions that have been taken by the company,” Torrez said in relation to the ongoing suit.

However, New Mexicans should take one thing away from the operation’s arrests, Torrez said during the conference: “It’s simply this: It’s Mark Zuckerberg’s fault,” because while Meta has “extraordinary resources at its disposal,” children remain at risk.

“The META executives are responsible for this,” Torrez said. “And while we can do what we are able as law enforcement professionals to keep the community safe, it is their responsibility to make these products safe to use.”

For now, Torrez said the DOJ will continue to “use every available tool” and stop predators from engaging in the online activities.

Torrez encouraged people who have potential tips to use the dedicated website, where they can find resources and make a formal referral of the potential predator. A social media guide is also available.

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