Law enforcement officers in the United Kingdom have identified the popular social network platform, Facebook, as the current platform human trafficking agents use to lure their unsuspecting victims.
According to the officials, Facebook is failing in its duty to prevent these criminals from using the medium to lure victims.
The officials said these criminal gangs are openly advertising “travel agent” style services into Europe, which, they said, conceal the risk of death or entrapment.
Chris Hogben, who leads Britain’s Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce stated “More often than not, these adverts are quite reassuring, they create an illusion this is very much normal travel, it’s safe, it’s easy.
“Tragically, when you look at quite a few of these adverts, they might be advertising big luxury yachts or ships.
[penci_blockquote style=”style-2″ align=”none” author=””]However, the risks are far from apparent in pages set up by smuggling gangs on social media, which often offer descriptions of routes and prices.[/penci_blockquote]
“When the migrants turn up to get transported they find they are being packed onto a rib or a small boat without safety jackets.”
However, Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, has said it worked closely with law enforcement agencies to identify and remove pages linked to smuggling and trafficking.
The number of illegal migrants into Europe has dropped sharply from its peak of more than a million in 2015, but tens of thousands still attempt the journey each year.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said so far in 2018, just under 75,000 people have arrived with the majority travelling on over-packed boats across the Mediterranean, which has left 1,524 dead or missing.
However, the risks are far from apparent in pages set up by smuggling gangs on social media, which often offer descriptions of routes and prices.
One even included a discount for children, said Hogben at Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA), which works to counter serious and organised crime.
The NCA has identified more than 800 pages linked to smuggling gangs since late 2016 on Facebook and asked the social media giant to remove them.
Hogben said Facebook was responsive to such requests but should be investing more to tackle the problem, including developing algorithms to flag up suspicious pages.
“If we can find them easily, then obviously social media companies including Facebook, can find them just as easily.
“There’s a lot more than social media companies could do to make it better.’’
International Programme Director at the Anti-trafficking charity, Hope for Justice, Neil Wain, welcomed the British authorities’ focus on the issue.
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He said most victims were still initially contacted by smugglers in person or by telephone, but that “there is no doubt that the use of digital technology and social networks for this purpose is on the rise’’.
A Facebook spokesman said the company had doubled its safety and security team to 20,000 and was investing in technology.
“People smuggling is illegal and any ads, posts, pages or groups that coordinate this activity is not allowed on Facebook,’’ he said.