When Facebook launched in 2004, its function was fairly clear-cut. It allowed people to connect with their friends, families, and acquaintances. In 2019, the platform is more multifaceted. It’s a social network, media distribution platform, messaging service, and digital marketplace.
Furthermore, a new Daily Beast article revealed the social network is being used for a truly horrific purpose in Africa. In Nigeria and South Sudan, Facebook users are making arrangements to sell young girls into financially motivated marriages.
An Ancient Horror Empowered by Modern Technology
Facebook has become a child bride marketplace for two reasons; age-old cultural practices and the introduction of the Internet into the region.
A large community called the Becheve live in the Nigerian state of Cross River. The group has a long tradition of using young women to pay off debts or as currency in large transactions. As Internet access has become more prevalent in the area, its younger inhabitants have taken to Facebook. Presently, 17 million people, or 15 percent of Nigerian Internet users, have Facebook accounts.
Cross River’s young people use the platform for normal activities like exchanging messages and likes. But they’ve also shown their older, non-tech sophisticated relatives how Facebook can facilitate the sale of their young daughters and nieces.
For example, a 16-year-old Nigerian named Monica was forced to become a money wife to help her family pay off old debts. Her older brother helped her father set up a Facebook page featuring photos of his six daughters. Soon, Monica’s father sold her to a man old enough to be her grandfather for $50.
Similarly, Regina, a Becheve teenager, was sold into slavery by her uncle in January. To shop his niece around, Regina’s uncle posted her photo on his Facebook page.
Predictably, money wives lead extremely bleak lives. Once married, Monica effectively became a chattel slave, forced to attend to her husband’s farm and sexual needs. Moreover, she can’t return home, go to school, and if her husband dies, she will become the property of his heirs.
To the Highest Bidder
Nigeria is not the only African nation to partake in the tech-enabled sexual slave trade. Late last year, Facebook hosted an auction for a 16-year-old girl from South Sudan. On Oct. 25, a Facebook user noted Nyalong Ngong Deng Jalang’s father received several lucrative bids for his daughter. The post solicited additional offers for her hand in marriage.
Jalang’s father sold her to a wealthy businessman for 530 cows, three cars, and $10,000. The post regarding Jalang’s trafficking quickly went viral and Facebook took it down on Nov. 9.
Nigerian women activists hope to end the process of Facebook facilitated wife sales but they are facing an uphill battle. According to a CNN report, the nation has a child marriage rate of 76 percent.
In fairness to Facebook’s founders, they never intended for it to be a human auction block. Nevertheless, the massively popular social network has become an all-purpose utility across the world. Consequently, the corporation has a moral responsibility to mitigate harm as much as possible.
In 2018, the platform used artificial intelligence tools to wipe out 99 percent of ISIS and al-Qaeda generated content on its network. Hopefully, Facebook will turn its highly effective screening programs to the task of ending child auctions.