Two years ago, Apple threatened to remove Facebook and Instagram from its app store over concerns over the platform’s use as a tool to trade and sell housekeepers in the Middle East.

After publicly promising to crack down, Facebook admitted in internal documents obtained by The Associated Press that it was “underestimating confirmed abusive activity” which has seen Filipino housekeepers complain on the social media site of ‘have been mistreated. Apple gave in and Facebook and Instagram stayed in the App Store.

But Facebook’s crackdown appears to have had limited effect. Even today, a quick search for “khadima” or “chambermaids” in Arabic, will bring up accounts featuring photographs of Africans and South Asians with ages and prices listed next to their images. . This is even when the Philippine government has a team of workers who just scour Facebook posts every day to try to protect desperate job seekers from the criminal gangs and unscrupulous recruiters using the site.

While the Middle East remains a crucial source of work for women in Asia and Africa who hope to provide for their families back home, Facebook has acknowledged that some countries in the region have human rights issues ” particularly flagrant ”with regard to the protection of workers.

“In our survey, domestic workers often complained to their recruiting agencies that they were locked in their homes, starved, forced to extend their contracts indefinitely, unpaid, and repeatedly sold to other employers without their consent,” we read in a Facebook document. “In response, the agencies often told them to be nicer.”

The report adds: “We also found that recruitment agencies rejected more serious crimes, such as physical or sexual assault, rather than helping domestic workers. “

In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it was taking the issue seriously, despite the continued run of ads exploiting foreign workers in the Middle East.

“We ban human exploitation in plain language,” Facebook said. “We have been fighting human trafficking on our platform for many years and our goal remains to prevent anyone who seeks to exploit others from having a home on our platform.”

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testified on Tuesday about the social media company.

That story, along with others released on Monday, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in drafted form by legal counsel for former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.

Overall, the mine of documents shows that Facebook’s impressive size and user base around the world – a key factor in its rapid rise and nearly $ 1 trillion valuation – also turns out to be its greatest weakness in the fight against illicit activities, such as the sale of drugs and alleged violations of human and labor rights at its site.

Activists say that Menlo Park, Calif., Facebook has both the obligation and possibly the means to fully crack down on the abuses their services facilitate, as it generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue per year.

“While Facebook is a private enterprise, when you have billions of users, you are effectively like a state and therefore you have de facto social responsibilities, whether you like it or not,” said Mustafa Qadri, executive director of ‘Equidem Research, which studies migrant labor.

A day after an outage that lasted several hours, whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the US Senate about Facebook’s platform of extreme opinions and reports that she and Instagram created body image issues at home. young people. CNBC reporter Lauren Feiner explains why there is support on both sides of the aisle to regulate Big Tech.

“These workers are recruited and go to work in places like the Gulf, the Middle East, where there are hardly any proper regulations on how they are recruited and how they are treated when they end up in the places. where they work. So when you put those two things together, really, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Mary Ann Abunda, who works with a nongovernmental Filipino worker protection group called Sandigan in Kuwait, also warned of the danger the site can pose.

“Facebook really has two faces now,” Abunda said. “Yes, as he says, he connects people, but it’s also become a haven of sinister people and unions waiting for your weak moment to throw itself on you.”

Facebook, like human rights activists and others concerned about work in the Middle East, pointed to the so-called “kafala” system prevalent in most countries in the region. Under this system, which allowed countries to import cheap foreign labor from Africa and South Asia as oil money swelled their economies from the 1950s, the workers find their residence directly linked to their employer, their sponsor or “kafeel”.

Facebook is in the hot seat again after a whistleblower said the social media site downplayed its platform for extremism. Meanwhile, the recent outage has caused Americans, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to think again about how much we rely on the app – AOC has called for the business to be disbanded. Legal analyst Danny Cevallos tells us what a hypothetical Facebook breakup would look like.

While workers can find employment in these devices that allow them to send money home, unscrupulous sponsors can exploit their workers who often have no other legal recourse. Stories of workers with passports seized, working non-stop and not getting paid properly have long overshadowed major construction projects, whether it’s Dubai Expo 2020 or the next one. FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

While Gulf Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar insist they have improved working conditions, others, like Saudi Arabia, still demand that employers approve the departure of their workers. . Meanwhile, domestic and domestic workers may find themselves at even greater risk by living alone with families in private homes.

In documents viewed by the AP, Facebook acknowledges being aware of both the conditions of exploitation of foreign workers and the use of Instagram to buy and trade housekeepers online even before a 2019 report from the service. Arabic from the BBC on practice in the Middle East. This BBC report sparked a threat from Cupertino, Calif.-Based Apple to remove the apps, citing sample photos of housekeepers and their biographical details appearing online, according to the documents.

Facebook engineers found that nearly three-quarters of all problematic posts, including showing maids in videos and screenshots of their conversations, happened on Instagram. The links to domestic sales sites mainly affected Facebook.

Wall Street Journal tech reporter Georgia Wells talks about the recent widely shared report documenting Facebook’s awareness of body image issues stemming from the Instagram app. Teenage Instagram users who encountered body image issues said the app made those issues worse by focusing on fitness and showing more and more pages with idealized bodies.

More than 60% of the material came from Saudi Arabia, of which about a quarter came from Egypt, according to the 2019 Facebook analysis.

In a statement to the PA, the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development said the kingdom “strongly opposes all types of illegal practices in the labor market” and that all employment contracts must be approved by the authorities. While keeping in touch with the Philippines and other countries on labor issues, the ministry said Facebook had never been in contact with it about the issue.

“Obviously, illegal ads posted on social media platforms make it more difficult to track and investigate,” the ministry said.

Saudi Arabia is also planning “a major public awareness campaign” on illegal recruitment practices soon, the ministry added.

Egypt did not respond to requests for comment.


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