TTP Report: Facebook Marketplace, WhatsApp Storefronts, and TikTok Videos: How Coyotes Get Creative
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 15, 2022
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 detailing how “coyotes”— who smuggle undocumented migrants across the U.S. border—are using social media in creative ways to advertise their services and communicate with migrants. TTP’s review found that coyotes—or scammers posing as coyotes—take advantage of a host of free online tools offered by Facebook, WhatsApp and TikTok to reach migrants desperate to make the journey north.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “It’s evident from our investigation that coyotes are putting a lot of effort into leveraging social media platforms, while the platforms are either ignoring it or failing to stop the activity. For something that has a real risk to human life and safety, one would think and hope that the platforms would be more invested in grappling with this.”
Today’s report follows a TTP survey of more than 200 migrants headed to the U.S. Some migrants recounted using Facebook to find coyotes, and TTP examined the pages and groups named in those conversations and found an abundance of coyote advertising.
TTP found coyotes frequently advertising on Facebook Marketplace as well as local buy-sell groups on Facebook, where their offers to take people across the border mingle with ads for things like motorcycles and used cell phones. In this way, the coyotes can reach people before they have even decided for certain that they will migrate, and give them the false impression that arranging a trip to the U.S. is as easy as ordering household products online.
This activity is occurring despite Facebook parent company Meta’s policy prohibiting content that offers to provide or facilitate human smuggling. In some cases, Facebook served ads into these coyote posts, profiting from content that violates its policies.
The investigation also found that many coyotes rely on WhatsApp to communicate with migrants, and even use WhatsApp business accounts, which allow them to broadcast messages to a large number of people and provide a “catalog” of different services. (WhatsApp is also part of Meta.)
Meanwhile on TikTok, TTP found that coyotes freely advertise passage to the U.S., often offering their services in text over banal videos of people performing landscaping or construction jobs with no obvious link to migration. TikTok’s content policy prohibits posts promoting “human smuggling.”
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “These platforms give coyotes a one-stop-shop to locate vulnerable individuals, extract payment, and often deceive—and the platforms are simply letting it happen. With coyote ‘services’ being increasingly run by violent cartels, the risk to migrants relying on these platforms for information goes far beyond financial 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.