The Use of Social Media Platforms by Human Traffickers

The Use of Social Media Platforms by Human Traffickers
Photo of whistleblower Frances Haugen. Matt McClain (The Washington Post via AP)

15-11-2021 

Luuk Lars Breebaart

International Justice Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence.

Over a month has passed since Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, has come forward regarding concerning practices at the online social media and networking service. [1] Internal documents identified that human traffickers used several of the company’s services to recruit, facilitate, and exploit vulnerable persons. Yet, while Facebook has publicly stated that it prohibits such practices, and actively combats human trafficking on the platform, its efficacy has been deemed lacklustre. [2]

The internet, and social media in particular, plays a key role in the cycle of human exploitation. Recruitment through online “relationships”, deceptive job applications; the advertising of services for which trafficked persons are used; and the gathering of information in order to control other’s behaviour (e.g., black-mail material). [3]

Facebook has once more been thrown into the limelight following the recent announcement that it would rebrand itself as ‘Meta’, whether more compelling measures will be taken in respect to tracking human traffickers and making the platform less appealing to criminal practices, however, remains to be seen.

Sources and further reading:

[1]  K. Zubrow, M. Gavrilovic, A. Ortiz, ‘Whistleblower's SEC complaint: Facebook knew platform was used to "promote human trafficking and domestic servitude"’ (CBS, 4 October 2021) <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-whistleblower-sec-complaint-60-minutes-2021-10-04/> accessed 11 November 2021

[2] C. Duffy, ‘Facebook has known it has a human trafficking problem for years. It still hasn't fully fixed it’ (CNN, 25 October 2021) <https://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/25/tech/facebook-instagram-app-store-ban-human-trafficking/index.html> accessed 11 November 2021

[3] Various, ‘Human Trafficking and Social Media’ (Polaris, July 2018) <https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking-and-social-media/> accessed 12 November 2021