We’ve been here before, repeatedly, and here we are again. Environmentalists have long been warning that Facebook has been a hotbed of wildlife trafficking at an “industrial scale” in such tropical countries with stunning biodiversity as Vietnam and Thailand.
Now anti-trafficking watchdogs allege not only that the trade is as robust as ever on the site but that the social media giant continues turning a blind eye to it.
According to media reports, critics in the US are accusing the company of failing to police its platform, thereby allowing traffickers to carry on peddling their ill-gotten fare with impunity. And this despite repeated calls by conservationists on Facebook to stamp out the practice.
Not only that but the company may even profit from such nefarious activities by selling display ads on pages where they’re being conducted. “Facebook is not an innocent bystander to these crimes,” Stephen Kohn, executive director of the NGO National Whistleblower Center, has been quoted as saying. “Facebook sold advertisements on the very pages the illegal ivory was being marketed.”
Facebook is among 20 technology companies that have recently signed up to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s initiative The Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, which seeks to eradicate the illegal trade on numerous online platforms. Yet a cursory check of Facebook by the Associated Press has found “scores of internationally banned wildlife products for sale in public and private Facebook groups, most based in Southeast Asia,” the news organization says.
“Among the items available were belts made from what appeared to be the fur of Bengal tigers, a critically endangered species with only about 2,500 still living in the wild,” AP elucidates. “Also advertised were horns from black rhinos, a species heavily targeted by poachers with little more than 5,000 still roaming Africa.”
Call us cynical but we are not that surprised. It isn’t the first time that Facebook has been in hot water over its dubious practices. In fact, law enforcement agencies in the US are investigating the company over allegations that it has allowed data-mining firms to exploit weaknesses in the site’s privacy controls, thereby collecting confidential and sensitive data on users.
So what to do? We must bring pressure to bear on Facebook to clean up its act and start policing its platform for signs of illegal wildlife trafficking with much greater zeal. Accounts known to be used for such purposes should be suspended or shut down permanently, depending on the severity of the offense. If that does not happen, illicit items like ivory will continue to be peddled in wanton abandon.
“The amount of ivory being traded on Facebook is horrifying,” Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime, has told AP. “I have looked at thousands of posts containing ivory, and I am convinced that Facebook is literally facilitating the extinction of the elephant species.”