Senators ask Facebook, Twitter to explain snub of inquiry into online sexual exploitation

Published March 2, 2021, 6:12 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Senators on Tuesday expressed their dismay over the failure of Facebook and Twitter to send representatives to the Senate’s hearing on the various issues surrounding online sexual abuse and exploitation.

(Manila Bulletin File)

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan particularly zeroed in on Facebook, which he said, should have used the public hearing as an opportunity to explain their side and their own policies following the reported discovery of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) about “online adoptions” carried out through the social media network.

“The least they could have done was appear here, or at the committee and explain their own policies. It’s most unfortunate that their absence here prevents us in getting their side,” Pangilinan said during the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality’s hearing on the various resolutions calling for investigations on online violence against women and children.

“Are they above the law? Sila ba ay di marunong makipag-usap sa mga taga gobyerno na tinututukan at hinahanapan ng solusyon itong problema sa online sexual abuse and exploitation?(Don’t they know how to discuss this with people in government who are exerting all efforts to find solutions to this problem on… )” the senator further pointed out.

“For the record, we are very concerned about their absence. In fact Twitter—I’m told—is also a source of online exploitation and they also are not here,” he lamented.

“We don’t want to quarrel with the private sector but some online experts, digital technology experts, have actually described Facebook as a ‘crime scene,’ particularly with these fake accounts undertaking all these criminal activities,” Pangilinan added.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chairwoman of the Senate women and children panel, confirmed the committee sought Facebook’s participation but will ask them to explain in writing why they were unable to send a resource person to participate in the probe. 

But the committee was unable to send an invitation to any official from Twitter.

“We will seek their participation, at least even at the technical working group (TWG) hearing tomorrow,” Hontiveros said.

Sen. Imelda “Imee” Marcos agreed with Pangilinan, saying she also believes it is necessary for Facebook to face the Senate and explain their side on another issue regarding “Christmas bundles”—a scheme where students are allegedly selling sensual photos and videos through Facebook and other social media platforms during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Marcos said the scheme involves young people who reportedly engaged in the scam to buy gadgets for their siblings and pay for internet fees in support of their distance learning.

“Perhaps we can also invite representatives from GCash and Paypal because they have this kind of payment system eh. So we can identify who are those people paying for such activities,” Marcos said.

“It’s apparently quite simple (to identify), because as I mentioned, there are fewer than 50 Philippine internet protocol addresses. So these children are ‘locked’ into these syndicates, because the transactions are coursed through only a few IP addresses,” she pointed out.

Marcos also pointed out the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) should also attend the Senate hearing and explain why they are unable to track down suspicious activities related to child pornography.

“Kasi sila mismo nagsasabi na may mga (they themselves said there are) suspicious activities related to child porn. Eh kung alam nila bakit hindi naman nila ginagawan ng paraan para pigilin ‘to (if they are aware, then why are not they doing anything to prevent it from happening?),” Marcos stressed.