by Meg McIntire
In a perfect world, I would be able to choose to spend 100% of my time, energy and money at organizations, stores and websites that have values which clearly align with my own values. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world and Facebook exists.
Let me first say, however, that I completely understand the important role Facebook plays in the lives of millions of people. As a social media manager, I’ve devoted countless hours to learning the ins and outs of Facebook, trying to reach as many users as possible with A/B ad tests, participating in group discussions, monitoring comments, etc. And I’ve seen a lot of good come out of Facebook. But these past few months have forced me to take off my blinders and accept that Facebook has not and still is not doing an adequate job of respecting people and animals alike.
The election scandal and Cambridge Analytics aside, Facebook is facing criticism for still allowing wildlife traffickers to sell animal body parts on their platform, despite promising the world they wouldn’t.
Right this very second, Facebook is still showing advertisements on group pages run by wildlife traffickers selling the body parts of dozens of threatened animals, including elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger teeth, according to an Associated Press story that reported on a complaint filed this summer by the National Whistleblower Center on behalf of an informant.
In the secret complaint filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission wildlife advocates alleged that Facebook’s failure to stop criminal traders using its service for illegal activity violates the social network’s responsibilities as a publicly traded company. But the part that really bothers me is that it directly violates the terms of the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, organized by Google and the World Wildlife Fund, that Facebook signed onto last month — a decision that garnered the social network much praise from many animal advocacy groups. The group’s goal is to reduce ivory trading markets by 80% over the next 2 years, which is admirable, if not quite ambitious. It just makes me question what Facebook executives’ true motives are if they’re publicly signing onto optional coalitions, but they can’t even abide by their own rules and regulations and in effect, delegitimizing the entire goal of the group.
It seems, in fact, that they’ve been putting almost zero effort into stopping these illegal activities on their platform. The whistleblower, who asked to remain anonymous, said in a press release: “The amount of wildlife being traded on closed and secret groups on Facebook is horrifying. We saw multiple products: rhino horn, bear claws, tiger skins, reptiles, and tons and tons of ivory. At a time when the world is losing 30,000 elephants a year to poachers, the amount of ivory sold on Facebook is particularly shocking.”
These allegations which clearly tie Facebook to the illegal trafficking of wildlife come on the heels of the world-wide privacy scandal enveloping the company because it allowed a political data firm hired by the Trump campaign to harvest personal information on millions of users to influence the election. This scandal on its own has already wiped out $79 billion in Facebook shareholder wealth during the last month.
Hopefully, this SEC complaint will be able to further bring to light how much of Facebook’s annual revenue of $41 billion has been generated by ads running on pages featuring illegal activity, such as the sale of elephant ivory and tiger teeth.
As a final thought, I also completely recognize the irony of posting about how disappointed I am with Facebook on Facebook, but I’ve also accepted that Facebook isn’t going away any time soon and it’s still a tool that can be used for good despite its many flaws. The reality is that Facebook is a free platform and we can’t expect it to protect people and wildlife singlehandedly. We can, however, try to make it a better functioning website by actively reporting and flagging posts and ads showing wildlife body parts for sale. If you see something, you can say something by filing a report with WildLeaks.org and alerting Facebook (find instructions here).
Social Media Editor Meg McIntire is also a contributing writer for Action Line. Meg is a news junkie and loves writing about politics, tech trends, rescue stories and pet parenthood.