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Facebook has admitted it was a “mistake” to ask users whether paedophiles requesting sexual pictures from children should be allowed on its website.

On Sunday, the social network ran a survey for some users asking how they thought the company should handle grooming behaviour. “There are a wide range of topics and behaviours that appear on Facebook,” one question began. “In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook’s policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures.”

The options available to respondents ranged from “this content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it” to “this content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it”.

A second question asked who should decide the rules around whether or not the adult man should be allowed to ask for such pictures on Facebook. Options available included “Facebook users decide the rules by voting and tell Facebook” and “Facebook decides the rules on its own”.

In neither survey question did Facebook allow users to indicate that law enforcement or child protection should be involved in the situation: the strictest option allowed involved turning to the social network as arbiter.

Facebook’s surveys asking users about grooming behaviour.

Facebook’s surveys asking users about grooming behaviour. Photograph: Jonathan Haynes for the Guardian

Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, condemned the survey. “This is a stupid and irresponsible survey,” she said. “Adult men asking 14-year-olds to send sexual images is not only against the law, it is completely wrong and an appalling abuse and exploitation of children. I cannot imagine that Facebook executives ever want it on their platform but they also should not send out surveys that suggest they might tolerate it or suggest to Facebook users that this might ever be acceptable.”

Other parts of the survey asked similar questions about content glorifying extremism, and asked users to rank how important they felt it was that Facebook’s policies were developed in a transparent manner, were fair, took into account different cultural norms, and achieved “the ‘right outcome’”.

Facebook’s vice president of product, Guy Rosen, said the surveys were “a mistake”.

“We run surveys to understand how the community thinks about how we set policies,” he said. “But this kind of activity is and will always be completely unacceptable on FB. We regularly work with authorities if identified. It shouldn’t have been part of this survey. That was a mistake.”

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson added: “We understand this survey refers to offensive content that is already prohibited on Facebook and that we have no intention of allowing so have stopped the survey.

“We have prohibited child grooming on Facebook since our earliest days; we have no intention of changing this and we regularly work with the police to ensure that anyone found acting in such a way is brought to justice.”

If you have more information about this survey, please contact and

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