Human Trafficking Among Myriad Complaints About Facebook

Many are aware Meta–the company now formerly known as Facebook–is a refuge for white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and foreign trolls.

But human traffickers?

Among the complaints former Facebook employee, whistleblower Frances Haugen, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), one alleges Facebook and Instagram were aware two years ago the platforms were being used to “promote human trafficking and domestic servitude.”

Citing an internal Facebook document, the SEC filing states:

“Our investigative findings demonstrate that…our platform enables all three stages of the human exploitation lifecycle (recruitment, facilitation, exploitation) via complex real-world networks…The traffickers, recruiters and facilitators from these ‘agencies’ used FB profiles, IG profiles, Pages, Messenger and WhatsApp…. “

It was only when Apple threatened to remove Facebook and Instagram apps from its platform after discovering they were being used to sell maids in the Philippines Facebook admitted in internal documents it was “under-enforcing on confirmed abusive activity.”

Facebook also acknowledged some countries have “especially egregious” human rights issues, adding:

“In our investigation, domestic workers frequently complained to their recruitment agencies of being locked in their homes, starved, forced to extend their contracts indefinitely, unpaid, and repeatedly sold to other employers without their consent. In response, agencies commonly told them to be more agreeable.”

Mustafa Qadri, executive director of Equidem Research, an organization that studies migrant labor, explained:

“These workers are being recruited and going to places to work like the Gulf, the Middle East, where there is practically no proper regulation of how they’re recruited and how they’re treated when they end up in the places where they work. So when you put those two things together, really, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

This means Facebook could potentially face criminal penalties under 2018’s ‘‘Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.”

Frances Haugen made headlines earlier this month when she appeared before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection to report on the social media giant’s failure to alter Instagram after internal documents cited its role in harm to teens and promotion of hate-filled and mendacious posts.

Two years ago, news broke about evidence confirming Russian buyers used Facebook advertising as propaganda leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

In response, Facebook presented Congress 3,000 Russian-purchased ads through 470 phony pages and accounts intended to exploit America’s racial divisions.

Facebook said at least $100,000 was spent for this purpose, a mere fraction of its political advertising during the 2016 campaign.

This motivated the House Intelligence Committee to release a sample of Facebook ads the Russian government-affiliated Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg troll farm, purchased about issues like immigration, religion, and race, for and against presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and Donald Trump.

More than 11 million people between 2015 and 2017 viewed these ads.

Moreover, Russia used Facebook ads to help Trump win Michigan and Wisconsin, and to exploit our racial and religious divides.

At the risk of being accused of re-litigating the 2016 election, it’s important to note the trolls did not disappear after Trump was elected.

Despite republicans accusing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey of exercising blatant left-wing bias, Facebook has become a mecca for right-wing extremist posts, some pretending to be speaking for the left in order to repeat 2016’s success of dividing up the electorate.

One group that factored prominently during the 2018 midterm election season was America Progress Now (APN), a digital marketing firm associated with pro-Trump youth group Turning Point USA.

Facebook was aware APN was really an alias for conservative marketing firm Rally Forge but allowed it to continue its deception because Rally Forge did not apparently violate Facebook’s policies.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) did nothing to stop the behavior.

Non-partisan campaign finance watchdog group Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint against APN and sued the FEC to try an force an investigation into APN.

Yet last July, the FEC voted to dismiss allegations APM violated federal law even after an individual named Evan Muhlstein accepted responsibility for the ads, blaming lack of proper disclosures and filings to “inexperience.”

Last year, Facebook pulled down 88 Donald Trump ads that sent explicit or implicit messages to white supremacists.

Image credit: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.