TTP Investigation: Human Smuggling Rampant on Facebook
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 10, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report revealing the ongoing presence of human smuggling activity on Facebook that is contributing to the increase in crossings at the U.S. southern border—and potentially putting lives in danger.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Facebook is out of excuses. It knows that human smuggling is bad, or it wouldn’t have banned it. It knows that it’s failing to enforce this ban, or it wouldn’t have reached out in April to ask us for a list of the groups we found that violate this ban. Yet, either due to a lack of caring or lack of trying, the problem persists.”
TTP first noted the presence of human smugglers on Facebook in an April report. Following that investigation, Facebook reached out to TTP to request a list of the pages and groups, which TTP provided. One month later, nearly half of the pages (19) remained active on the platform. Further TTP research has uncovered dozens of additional Facebook pages and multiple Facebook groups—with tens of thousands of members—where border crossing services are sold.
Many of the Facebook smuggler pages newly identified by TTP did little to disguise themselves or their activities. One page was even called “El coyote lopez” (“The coyote lopez”)—coyote being a commonly used term for human smuggler. Another, called “Viaje para estados unidos , cumple tu sueño” (“Travel to the United States, fulfill your dream”), posts prices and routes from Reynosa, Mexico, across the border to McAllen, Texas.
One group, “Quiero cruzar la frontera [US and Mexican flag emojis]” (“I want to cross the border”), has 44,000 members and contains numerous posts from a user who encourages others to privately message him if they are interested in paying to cross the border. According to Dr. Nilda Garcia, a researcher specializing in cartel activity on social networks who assisted TTP in its analysis, this same user exhibited signs of cartel affiliation.
In addition to hosting explicit offers of human smuggling, Facebook is failing to crack down on misinformation that is fueling the migrant surge. One post identified by TTP included images of people in a raft at night with text that suggests people are easily obtaining asylum, a common piece of misinformation. In another group, a user asks if U.S. Border Patrol is releasing migrants quickly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another person replies that the user can get quick asylum as a Colombian—and then seizes the opportunity to offer passage to Mexico.
Facebook’s aggressive play for market share in Latin America is giving human smugglers a massive regional platform to conduct their business. After launching its Internet.org initiative in 2013, Facebook began striking deals with local wireless carriers in Latin America to offer a limited set of applications—including Facebook—through so-called zero-rating, in which people get access to specific apps without incurring data charges. The stated goal of this program is to provide internet access to those who might otherwise not have it, but critics have pointed out how it creates a “walled garden” of applications that favors Facebook.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “If Facebook wants to position itself as the primary entry point to the internet for underserved Latin Americans, then it has to seriously reconsider what its platform is truly providing. Increased connectivity has innumerable benefits when done right, but as long as Facebook’s content moderation failures persist, it also offers the opportunity for the most vulnerable among us to become subject to misinformation and exploitation.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.