The New Mexico Attorney General’s office has taken a significant legal step against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, accusing it of impeding investigations into child abuse on its platforms. This accusation forms the crux of a lawsuit filed against the tech giant, highlighting growing concerns about online safety and the responsibility of social media companies.
Allegations of Account Shutdown and Obstruction
The Attorney General's office has filed a motion alleging that Meta shut down several test accounts created by investigators to probe alleged child abuse. This move, according to the Attorney General, obstructs ongoing research and access to vital data.
The accounts, registered as belonging to minors as young as 12 years old, were reportedly able to access explicit content, including what the complaint terms as “soft-core pornography”. In response to this action, the Attorney General is urging a judge to order Meta not to delete any data associated with these accounts.
The urgency of this request is underscored by Meta's alleged intention to retain only information it deems “relevant” to the claims. Meta, in a statement from spokesperson Andy Stone, assured that it would “preserve data consistent with our legal obligations”.
However, this statement came after the New Mexico investigators discovered that their test accounts had been disabled by Meta, a day after the lawsuit was filed.
The Fight for Data Preservation
The Attorney General’s office's concern is that disabling these accounts might equate to deleting them, thereby erasing valuable evidence.
This concern is not unfounded, as the filing references a similar situation in California where 'locked' accounts in social media litigation were inadvertently deleted. The New Mexico office, aiming to prevent a repeat of such a loss of data, requested confirmation from Meta that all data from the test accounts and other accounts mentioned in the complaint would be preserved.
However, lawyers for Meta only committed to “take reasonable steps to identify the accounts referenced in the complaint and … preserve relevant data and information regarding those accounts”.