New Mexico sues Zuckerberg’s Meta over child sexual exploitation, claiming criminals used ‘pizza’ as code on FB, Instagram

Dec 8, 2023 | Political News

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez has filed a lawsuit against Meta, Mark Zuckerberg, and the subsidiaries owned by Meta alleging that Facebook and Instagram “knowingly exposes children to the twin dangers of sexual exploitation and mental health harm,” noting that “cheese pizza” in a common “proxy for child pornography” seen on the platforms.

Meta’s platforms Facebook and Instagram are a breeding ground for predators who target children for human trafficking, the distribution of sexual images, grooming, and solicitation. Teens and preteens can easily register for unrestricted accounts because of a lack of age verification. When they do, Meta directs harmful and inappropriate material at them. It allows unconnected adults to have unfettered access to them, which those adults use for grooming and solicitation,” the lawsuit, filed in the First Judicial District Court of New Mexico, states.

The lawsuit states that warnings have been raised by those both inside and outside the company for years, but “nonetheless failed to stem the tide of damaging sexual material and sexual propositions delivered to children.”

An investigation carried out by the Attorney General’s Office has found that Meta has served sexually explicit material to children through its recommendation algorithm, enabled adults to find and interact with minors to sell photos or participate in pornographic videos, hosted unmoderated user-run groups that are devoted to child pornography, and “Allowed, and failed to detect, a fictional mother offering her 13-year old for trafficking, and solicited the 13-year old to create her own professional page and sell advertising.”

The lawsuit notes that numerous Instagram accounts that offer links to child pornography through secondary platforms frequently feature biographies that state “All New Kids Links Available,” with many of the usernames including the word “pizza.”

“Notably, ‘cheese pizza,' with its shared initials, is known to be a proxy for child pornography,” the lawsuit states.

Accounts feature fully nude or scantily clad young children in sexual positions, and text that talks about the pricing of the content as well as links to purchase it through platforms like Telegram or WhatsApp, platforms that are encrypted.

Investigators created an Instagram account for a 13-year-old girl after two unsuccessful attempts to create accounts on Facebook, and were able to follow accounts “that signaled connections to child pornography, with ‘pizza' seller or links, ‘little-girls,' or ‘young_girl_sell' in their names. She also was promptly followed by a similar set of sexually themed groups, including cpsell2, trusted_pizza_seller, all_new_kids_link, and i_can_make_women_orgsm.”

Investigators made an account for another 13-year-old girl on Facebook, which was then recommended sexually explicit accounts to follow, and was served sexually explicit content through the hastag 13-year-olds.

“Taya also conducted a search for ‘chicken soup,' which is widely understood, because of its initials, to signify ‘child sex.' She was pointed to this account, which invites the user to ‘Follow if you like little things'—a reference to sexual interest in children—with cheese pizza emojis for child pornography.”

The investigation found that “Instagram uses easily-evaded restrictions on hashtags,” allowing users to tag their posts or profiles with specific terms, even if they were blocked.

“In addition, searches for child pornography that were blocked by Meta could be easily evaded by adding spaces, characters, or emojis to the search terms. For instance, while Instagram blocked searches for cheese pizza emojis (which yielded ‘no results at this time'), adding another emoji … for ‘pizza links'—did not restrict results. The phrase ‘pizza links' is used by a web of accounts that were readily findable through searches and that offer CSAM.”

The lawsuit stated that “The sale of CSAM is open and brazen. Account after account on Instagram transparently offered their merchandise.”

In response to the allegation, X owner Elon Musk questioned Disney CEO Bob Iger, the company that pulled advertising from his platform after a hit piece accused Musk of antisemitism, why he was continuing advertising on Meta platforms.

“Why does Bob Eager advertise on Meta, but boycott X? Real question.”