Facebook’s human trafficking problem ‘isn’t a new phenomenon’


(NewsNation Now) — Facebook is facing its harshest accusations to date upon the release of The Facebook Papers.

The vast trove of redacted internal documents obtained by a consortium of news organizations details accusations by whistleblower Francis Helgen that the social media company pursued profits over safety.

One of the more stunning realizations is that Facebook has reportedly known since at least 2018 that human traffickers use its platforms to recruit and exploit people. The company didn’t strengthen its policy prohibiting human exploitation until Apple threatened to pull the Facebook app from its app store the following year.

A 2020 federal human trafficking report showed that 41% of defendants in active sex trafficking cases met their victims on social media and 59% of online victim recruitment occurred on Facebook.

“This isn’t a new phenomenon,” Alyssa Currier Wheeler, associate legal counsel for the Human Trafficking Institute, said during an appearance on “Morning in America” “The internet has been the top location for recruitment and federal sex trafficking prosecutions since 2013.

“We all know that social media platforms rise and fall in popularity fairly quickly, whereas it can be years before traffickers are indicted for crimes.

“So these cases don’t necessarily reflect what platforms are most utilized by traffickers today,” Wheeler said. “But in 2020 cases, Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, and Snapchat, are the most common sites for recruitment in these cases.”

The tactics being used to recruit and exploit trafficking victims usually involve some type of fraudulent promise, like a job offer or a fake romantic relationship.

But according to the 2020 Federal human trafficking report, forced labor is likely more prevalent than sex trafficking.

“Domestic servitude is a type of forced labor that we see,” Wheeler, one of the authors of that 2020 report, said. “The No. 1 industry where forced labor takes place is domestic servitude, or, you know, housekeepers, nannies, folks that are working behind closed doors that it can be very difficult to see what’s going on, difficult for investigators to find and difficult to prosecute due to lack of evidence.”

It would be helpful in the fight against human trafficking if social media companies worked to “quell the spread of unfounded information,” Wheeler said. “Traffickers often defraud victims and exploitation and fraud is certainly harder to detect when it’s surrounded by a lot of other misinformation.”

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