Deeply Talks: Facebook and the Smugglers

In our latest Deeply Talks, we spoke with IOM’s Leonard Doyle and transnational crime expert Tuesday Reitano about how companies like Facebook should respond to the use of their platforms by people smugglers.

Written by Charlotte Alfred Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
Police walk through an informal refugee settlement in Calais in 2016. Michaud Gael/NurPhoto

Facebook is embroiled in controversy over its handling of data and hosting of fake news. Social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have also come under scrutiny for their use by people smugglers.

Europol, the E.U. law enforcement agency, says social media use in people smuggling witnessed “exponential growth over recent years.” Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Center called Facebook “the social media platform of choice for smugglers.”

In our latest Deeply Talks, we discussed how companies like Facebook should respond to smugglers’ use of their platforms with Leonard Doyle, director of media and communication at the U.N. migration agency (IOM), and Tuesday Reitano, deputy director at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime and co-author of the book “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour.”

“Not all smugglers are the same,” Reitano said, noting that social media are used in different ways along different routes. Smugglers use public platforms to advertise their services and share success stories – sometimes false ones – while private groups can act as a kind of “Trip Advisor,” allowing migrants and refugees to get information and move safely.

Doyle highlighted some of the most exploitative uses of digital platforms by smugglers and people traffickers, including Facebook live streams of torture or ransom videos. He said IOM had not received a satisfactory answer to requests to Facebook to actively monitor such content as they would child pornography.

“It’s about time the tide has turned on many of the digital platforms and for a look at their responsibility of many of the perversions of the system,” he said.

Even so, Reitano pointed out, the more you censor information, the more it goes underground, which could make migrants and refugees with few alternatives to hiring a smuggler less – not more – safe.

“We take the issue of human smuggling seriously,” Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhraja told Refugees Deeply. “It is against Facebook’s Community Standards to post content that coordinates the smuggling of people; such content is removed as soon as we become aware of it.

“Furthermore, we do not allow criminal organizations of any kind to have a presence on Facebook… [and] we do not allow content that threatens or promotes forced labor or sexual exploitation,” she said, citing Facebook’s “ongoing dialogue and consultation” with organizations including United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and U.N. refugee agency.

Listen to the full episode of Deeply Talks: Facebook and the Smugglers:

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