Facebook allows ‘scary’ wildlife trafficking as world’s smallest monkey among species on sale

Facebook is a thriving market for the illegal wildlife trade, enabling “frightening” volumes of endangered species trafficking, an investigation has found.

The platform’s algorithms actively stimulate the distribution of content by illegal poachers, so that they are seen by more people, according to the researchers.

Animal posts for sale included pygmy marmosets, the world’s smallest monkey, as well as tigers, leopards, pangolins and African gray parrots.

Social campaigning organization Avaaz, which carried out the survey, said the trade was having a devastating effect on biodiversity.

He accused Facebook of failing to consistently enforce its own policies by allowing posts and actively recommending content similar to what researchers had previously viewed.

Facebook guidelines prohibit content seeking to buy, sell or give away endangered species or their parts.

Investigators said they found 129 posts containing potentially dangerous wildlife trafficking content with just a few clicks from Facebook’s search bar.

They said it showed how “frightening volumes” of harmful wildlife trafficking content online went unchecked.

A since-deleted Facebook page titled “Wildlife Trade, Pangolin Scale & Rhino Horn” appealed to bidders for their animals by posting a photo of a pangolin in a cage.

In another instance, traders’ phone numbers were publicly displayed alongside videos of caged baby Bengal tigers being offered for sale.

The Independent also saw pangolin scales, baby tigers and African parrots for sale on Facebook.

Avaaz said more than half – 54% – of group recommendations made by Facebook’s algorithms to searchers included content harmful to wildlife trafficking, and 74% were considered to violate Facebook’s own policies.

After researchers reported the content to Facebook using its “Report Post” button, the platform only removed 43% of the posts.

“Avaaz research shows that, on Facebook, wildlife trafficking happens in broad daylight,” said Ruth Delbaere, the organization’s legal campaign manager.

“By not sufficiently enforcing its own policies, Facebook is enabling international commerce that has devastating effects on biodiversity and the stability of natural ecosystems.”

Over the years, other investigations have revealed that Facebook also allows trade in ivory from endangered elephants and rhinos, as well as posts advertising sun bears, walruses, turtles, rhinos, sea turtles and shark fins.

In 2018, Facebook was a founding member of the Coalition to End Online Wildlife Trafficking, which set an ambition to reduce illegal trade by 80% by 2020.

A spokesperson for Facebook owner Meta said it was unfair to judge law enforcement efforts based on just 129 posts and said it took down pages that violated its policies.

“The results do not reflect the extensive work we have done to combat wildlife trafficking on Facebook,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company introduced technology to find and remove such content, and to warn users who search for it.

“This is a contradictory space, however, and the people behind this horrific activity are persistent and constantly evolving their tactics in an attempt to evade these efforts,” the spokesperson said.

Illegal wildlife trafficking not only drives species towards extinction, but is also believed to pose a risk of disease transmission that could potentially infect humans.

(The Independent)

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