The Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime (CINTOC) recently conducted extensive analysis of wildlife crime activity on social media platforms.
CINTOC identified at least six large wildlife syndicates operating on Facebook, mainly based in Asia and the Gulf. As in an investigation by another organisation, we found an astounding quantity of endangered animal products being marketed in closed and secret groups. We logged thousands of images of rhino horn, bear claws, tiger skins. various reptiles, and tons of elephant ivory on these groups. Postings offered everything from ivory bangles to dead baby tigers piled onto scales. Earlier this year, a US member of Congress accused Facebook of facilitating the extinction of elephants at a time when the world is losing 30 000 elephants a year to poachers. This was stated during enquiries by American lawmakers. When Buddy Carter, a representative from Georgia, levelled this allegation at founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO replied that he was not aware it was happening.
Wechsler and Peters explained that Facebook provides a space that is anonymous, global, and free of regulation, which enables illegal wildlife sellers to connect with and market to customers. They added that some sellers use lnstagram to trade photos with prospective buyers. and WhatsApp to communicate about sales. Facebook owns both these companies.
“Our organisation did not set out to single out Facebook. CINTOC analysts scanned for illegal wildlife activity across multiple social media platforms. including Yahoo, WeChat and eBay. Most other US platforms appear to monitor for illegal wildlife and attempt to delete it.” they stated.
Wechsler and Peters stressed that Facebook should root out criminal activity on its platform. This follows similar statements from the American and other governments after privacy concerns emerged as
a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “Other international investigations have also identified illegal sales of illegal opioids and counterfeit goods and human trafficking,” Peters said. On whether Facebook should be held liable for the acts of its users. Zuckerberg has repeatedly raised the view that Facebook runs a technology firm and that users· action should not render the company liable.
Wechsler and Peters reacted by likening Facebook to American banks. “Bankers made a similar argument in the 1980s when concerns spiked about money laundering during the war on drugs,” Wechsler said. That prompted the US federal government to mandate that banks report suspicious transactions to authorities. Laws put the onus on the banks to control and report on illegal activity occurring in their systems.
Peters and Wechsler believe social media firms. including Facebook, must face the same types of regulation. “There is an opportunity for Facebook to use its data to collaborate with law enforcement and restore its battered reputation: Peters stated, adding that Facebook could “put authorities in the position to stage a massive wildlife law enforcement operation that would have a strategic impact in the fight to save iconic species like the elephant, rhino and tiger from extinction.
Reference was made to a previous statement by Zuckerberg describing Facebook as an “idealistic and optimistic company”. “At CINTOC we are optimistic that animal species can be saved from extinction, and that Facebook can be part of the solution: Wechsler said.
About William Wechsler and Gretchen Peters
William Wechsler and Gretchen Peters are president and executive director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime. Wechsler is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics and global threats. Peters co-chaired an OECD task force on countering the illegal wildlife trade and consults to law enforcement globally on transnational organised crime.
Written by: William Wechsler and Gretchen Peters.
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