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Hawley Says Facebook’s Human Trafficking Policy May Be Criminal

TOPSHOT - A US Border Patrol vehicle sits next to a border wall in the El Paso Sector along the US-Mexico border between New Mexico and Chihuahua state on December 9, 2021 in Sunland Park, New Mexico. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
• February 3, 2022 4:05 pm

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) says Meta, formerly known as Facebook, may be engaged in criminal conduct following a Washington Free Beacon report on its decision to allow solicitation of human trafficking on its platforms.

In a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg obtained by the Free Beacon, Hawley says the company policy of allowing the solicitation of smuggling services to cross through the southern border may amount to "aiding and abetting illegal border crossings," a federal crime.

Hawley, who served as Missouri's attorney general before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, wants Meta to lay out whether it's taken any steps to ensure "compliance with federal anti-trafficking laws" and detail its plans to provide resources to help users who solicit traffickers on the platform. The company this week told the Free Beacon that provided resources would be solely informational.

Hawley’s letter comes as Meta finds itself on the ropes. On Wednesday a disappointing company earnings report led to the largest-ever one-day drop in the company’s stock price. Lawmakers from both parties have also introduced bills over the last year to more closely regulate the company on issues ranging from transparency to the content it allows users to post.

On Tuesday, the Free Beacon reported that Meta decided to allow the solicitation of smuggling after five months of deliberation. Meta told the Free Beacon that its policy strikes "the right balance between supporting people fleeing violence and religious persecution while not allowing human smuggling to take place through our platforms."

Meta’s policy, according to Hawley, may have legal consequences under a future Republican-led Department of Justice.

"Your company is not outside the law. I remind you that the protections of 47 U.S.C. § 230 (‘Section 230'), the liability shield from which your company benefits daily, do not extend to criminal activity," Hawley wrote. "Perhaps a future presidential administration, one less sympathetic to your company’s political leanings, will be interested in investigating your company’s decisions to aid and abet such unlawfulness."

Hawley asked for Meta to provide the information he requested by Feb. 11.

Sen. Rick Scott (R., Fla.) also targeted Meta over its smuggling policy, writing on Thursday that it was "shameful." Scott extended an invitation to Zuckerberg to the southern border so he can meet with border patrol agents and "hear their stories of young girls being smuggled and sold into human trafficking networks funded by savage cartels."