Facebook Watch, the social media giant’s answer to Netflix, officially launched in the U.S. in August with “hundreds” of shows, from politics to entertainment to culture. Among them are Edibles Will, a weed-themed cooking show owned by Turner Broadcasting that teaches viewers how to infuse various foods and drinks with marijuana. Recipes include weed-infused tie-dye blondie ice cream sandwiches, weed-flavored orange chicken, weed apple pie, and a chocolate weed milkshake.
The platform also promotes a sex education show called Madge the Vag, with episodes such as “Oral Sex? Yes Please!” and “The Search For The Big O,” a guide to helping women achieve orgasm. It’s a funny, sex-positive show, full of useful tips and sexual innuendo.
It is shows like these that set Facebook Watch apart from other video platforms such as YouTube, as Facebook handpicked its slate of initial programming. However, Facebook Watch has also set itself apart in a way it perhaps didn’t mean to: its lack of parental controls. It seems Facebook is actively promoting weed and orgasm shows to minors.
When we created a dummy Facebook account and set our age to 13, the youngest a user can be in order to use the platform, we were then given access to Facebook Watch, which is currently available to U.S. users via a link on the left-hand side of their Facebook feeds. We did not add friends or like or join any communities, two activities Facebook has said affects the kind of content promoted to users on Watch. The platform promoted various episodes of both shows to our dummy account under sections titled “Popular Now” and “Suggested For You.”
In an episode of Edibles Will posted a month ago, the host showed viewers how to make “weed-infused crunchwraps.” While it could be argued that weed is not heroin and female-centered sex-ed is not porn, these shows still wouldn’t be what many parents would want their children to see unsupervised. Edibles Will still promotes ingesting what is an illegal substance for minors. Recreational marijuana is legal in eight states, plus D.C., including California, where the show is filmed—but in all of those states, you must be at least 21 years old in order to legally possess it.
Facebook told the Daily Dot it didn’t mean to promote these shows to minors. “These shows shouldn’t have been suggested in the way they were and we’re going to fix that,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We currently provide warnings across a range of mature content, and are working with creators to help them put warnings on their shows.”
These warnings were not featured in promoted episodes of Edibles Will or Madge the Vag, even after we asked Facebook why it promotes them to its youngest users.
Caroline Knorr, senior parenting editor at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that helps families choose age-appropriate movies, video games, and other media, suggested both Facebook and parents have a shared responsibility to ensure children avoid potentially unsuitable content online.
“While it’s certainly Facebook’s responsibility to make sure that it advertises mature video content only to adults, situations like this should remind parents to prepare their children early for what they’ll almost certainly encounter online,” said Knorr.
She added, “New features that pop up on social media services often have some kinks to iron out. Parents can’t possibly stay on top of every single new thing, so they should make it a habit to ask their kids what they’re watching and interacting with—and watch with them, when possible, to get a sense of the content.”
Facebook does not allow parents to monitor their children’s activity using the platform, citing privacy laws. “We’re generally forbidden by privacy laws against giving unauthorized access to someone who isn’t an account holder,” the platform states in its help section, and adds, “we encourage parents to exercise any discretion they can on their own computers and in overseeing their kids’ internet use.”
Facebook’s spokesperson said users can “report objectionable content to us when they see it, and we act quickly if it violates our Community Standards. We also plan to give creators tools to be able to restrict their shows to people of certain ages.”
While we wait on those age-restricting controls, parents should perhaps be extra careful that their kids aren’t snagging their weed to make the tie-dye brownies Facebook suggested.