Baby tigers, African grey parrots, and the world’s smallest monkey, the pygmy marmoset, can be bought on social media platform Facebook, according to a new report by campaign group Avaaz. The platform has become a “thriving marketplace” for illegal online wildlife trading of critically endangered species, Avaaz said.
Avaaz researchers pretended to be interested in exotic animals on Facebook. “It took only a few clicks and no prior experience for Avaaz researchers to stumble upon 129 posts listing endangered species for sale,” Avaaz said.
Facebook’s algorithm then dragged its researchers into an international wildlife trafficking rabbit hole. After searching for exotic animals, over half of the group recommendations made by Facebook’s algorithms to Avaaz researchers included harmful wildlife trafficking content.
Even after Avaaz researchers reported the posts through Facebook’s ‘Report post’ tool, the platform removed only 43% of them.
“Avaaz’s research shows that, on Facebook, wildlife trafficking takes place in broad daylight,” Ruth Delbaere, senior legal campaigner with Avaaz, said. “Traffickers do not shy away from listing their goods for sale in public groups, nor from including their phone numbers in their posts.“
“By insufficiently enforcing its own policies, Facebook is enabling an international trade that has devastating effects on biodiversity and the stability of natural ecosystems,” Delbaere added.
According to Facebook’s own guidelines, it’s forbidden to sell endangered animals or their parts. Facebook pledged to combat illegal wildlife trade four years ago by joining the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online (CEWTO).
A spokesperson for Facebook told news agency Reuters that it was unfair to judge the company’s enforcement efforts based on just 129 posts.
“The results don’t reflect the extensive work we’ve done to combat wildlife trafficking on Facebook,” the spokesperson said. “This is an adversarial space though, and the people behind this awful activity are persistent and constantly evolving their tactics to try to evade those efforts.”
Delbaere told The Animal Reader that research published by the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO) in 2020 also showed substantial wildlife trafficking activity on Facebook. And “World Parrot Trust and WWF have recently sounded the alarm on online wildlife trafficking as well.”
“Our research moreover does not judge the company’s enforcement efforts solely on the basis of these 129 posts, but also on the fact that once posts had been reported to Facebook through the platform’s “Report post” tool, Facebook had removed less than half of the content a week later,” Delbaere said.
“In addition, following their basic search, Facebook’s algorithms continued to feed our researchers more and more wildlife trafficking content,” she added.
“The great tragedy is that Facebook is sitting on an immense amount of data about the world’s biggest wildlife criminals, but instead of using that data to help combat wildlife trafficking, their algorithms instead help criminals grow their business,” Gretchen Peters, Executive Director of ACCO, said.
Illegal wildlife trafficking has been under the spotlight after claims that the coronavirus might have crossed the species barrier from bats to humans via China’s extensive animal trading network.
The Animal Reader is a small independent animal news platform based in the Netherlands. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.