A 16-year-old girl in South Sudan was recently auctioned on Facebook for marriage, according to a report from CNN. The social network reportedly didn’t remove the post until 15 days after it was published and nearly a week after she was already married.
The auction started on Facebook on October 25. The girl was married on November 3, and Facebook took the post down on November 9, CNN reports. Facebook told CNN that it had disabled the account of the user who posted the auction on the platform.
Five men reportedly bid on the girl, which included government officials, and the winning bid was 500 cows, three cars, and $US10,000 ($13,743). Suzy Natana, a lawyer at the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), told the outlet that this is the highest known bid for a bride in the region.
“This barbaric use of technology is reminiscent of latter-day slave markets,” George Otim, country director of Plan International South Sudan, a humanitarian organisation focused on children’s rights and equality for girls, said in a post from the organisation. “That a girl could be sold for marriage on the world’s biggest social networking site in this day and age is beyond belief.”
Otim also added that “it is common for dowries to be used in marriages in South Sudanese culture.” Child marriage in Sudan is also common—a 2017 UNICEF report found that just over a third of girls in the country are married before they turn 18, and 12 per cent are married before they turn 15.
What’s especially troubling in this instance is both how Facebook was used as a vehicle to drive up the bids and also how long it took the social network to remove the post. It’s even more egregious given how many times Facebook has accidentally—and quite expeditiously—removed historical and newsworthy content in the recent past.
“Human trafficking is abhorrent and is not allowed on Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo last month in response to a lawsuit filed against the company alleging that it enabled online child grooming and recruitment on its platform. “We use technology to thwart this kind of abuse and we encourage people to use the reporting links found across our site so that our team of experts can review the content swiftly. Facebook also works closely with anti-trafficking organisation and other technology companies, and we report all apparent instances of child sexual exploitation to NCMEC.”
In response to the child bride auction post and its grossly delayed response in removing it, a Facebook spokesperson told CNN that it’s “always improving the methods we use to identify content that breaks our policies, including doubling our safety and security team to more than 30,000 and investing in technology.”
We have reached out to Facebook for comment on why it reportedly took 15 days to remove the post.
Update 2:42pm ET: A Facebook spokesperson later sent over roughly the same statement it gave CNN.
“Any form of human trafficking - whether posts, pages, ads or groups is not allowed on Facebook. We removed the post and permanently disabled the account belonging to the person who posted this to Facebook. We’re always improving the methods we use to identify content that breaks our policies, including doubling our safety and security team to more than 30,000 and investing in technology.”