The illegal wildlife trade on Facebook is still thriving

The social network Facebook continues to be a thriving market for the online wildlife trade, despite the platform’s promise to fight the illegal trade. So says a report from the international campaign network Avaaz.

It should be noted that between the posts and conversations on Facebook, Avaaz employees retrieved a large number of advertisements about the illegal trade in wildlife, including some of the world’s endangered species.

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The illegal wildlife trade is one of the main sectors of cross-border commercial crime. Only drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting generate a higher turnover.

In addition, these illegal activities cause severe economic and social harm, including cruelty to animals, loss of species and ecosystems, and even the potential for disease transmission from animals to humans.

Four years ago, Facebook co-founded the Coalition to End Online Wildlife Trade, which aims to reduce illegal trade by 80 percent by the end of the last decade. The company says it has made progress in combating the illegal animal trafficking, but the new report indicates that the platform remains a popular market for this type of activity.

Researchers say they found a large number of potentially harmful messages on Facebook in a short time, including leopards, monkeys, lion cubs and elephant tusks, being searched for or offered for sale. All of these animals are included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

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“Illegal animal dealers are not afraid to list their merchandise in public groups on Facebook,” notes Ruth Delber, Avaaz’s legal advisor. “They don’t even hesitate to include their phone numbers in those messages. On Facebook, the illegal wildlife trade happens in broad daylight.”

“The ease with which interested parties are referred to these ads indicates that Facebook’s algorithms are not compliant with company policies or community efforts to limit the online wildlife trade.”

Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Cybercrime Alliance, noted that “instead of using data to fight wildlife trafficking, algorithms appear to be helping criminals grow their businesses.”

The report found that Facebook removed 13 percent of suspicious wildlife trade posts before researchers reported the presence of the content to the platform. But even after Avaaz notified the company of the potential for illegal messages, only 43 percent of the messages in question were deleted a week later.

“Facebook has known for a long time that wildlife trade thrives on its platform,” US politician Raul Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in response to the study.

However, the company appears to be blatantly ignoring the problem. In effect, the platform enables these practices, thus violating its self-proclaimed position on criminal activity and cruelty to animals.”

Four years ago, Democratic Party member Grijalva had already called for an investigation into the social network’s role in the illegal wildlife trade.

The report calls on Facebook to strengthen its policies to end the illegal trade in animals and plants. Avaaz also calls for more extensive cooperation with the government in this regard.

However, in response to this, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, questions the validity of the research methodology. Meta also argued that the report’s findings were inconsistent with the company’s efforts to combat the wildlife trade.

“Facebook has developed groundbreaking technology to help find and remove this content,” Meta said. Warning popups have been launched to discourage the public from participating in this trade.

However, here is a very hostile environment and the perpetrators are very persistent. In addition, they are constantly changing their tactics in order to evade actions against their activities.”

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