Sen. Blackburn calls on Facebook to target criminals using platforms for human trafficking services
Criminals use Facebook and Facebook-owned apps to advance human and drug trafficking operations
EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is calling on Facebook to make a stronger effort to target criminals on its platform after a series of leaked documents revealed how the social media giant facilitates human and drug trafficking.
Blackburn on Wednesday met with Chandler Means, executive director of a counseling and social services organization called AGAPE, at the group’s Morning Star shelter for domestic violence victims and foster children in Nashville to raise awareness of victims during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
"We’re very concerned about how these human traffickers work on social media to connect with women, to market services," she told Fox News Digital. "And when we look both in the U.S. and across the [world], we see how social media platforms – Facebook, TikTok – are being used to recruit people ... and also for human traffickers to sell their services."
The documents obtained by former Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen and reviewed by 17 U.S. media outlets, including FOX Business, dubbed "The Facebook Papers," detail how human traffickers and drug cartels abuse the platform to profit off of illegal activity.
Haugen filed a series of complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) earlier this month. Documents also allege Facebook made decisions that put the company’s profit over the well-being of its users and knew that its photo-sharing app, Instagram, was harmful to teenagers.
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Other internal documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal in September show how Facebook employees attempted to take action against drug cartels and human traffickers using the platform to facilitate crime, but the company lagged in its efforts to combat those bad actors.
In a September statement posted to Twitter, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone defended the tech giant's commitment to preventing harm.
"As the Wall Street Journal itself makes clear, we have a team of experts who help us uncover patterns of harmful behavior so we can disrupt it. We've got arguably more experts and resources dedicated to this work than any other consumer technology company in the world," Stone wrote in a Sept. 16 tweet.
He continued: "While there is always more we can do, these teams have helped us to find and disrupt gangs and traffickers operating on our platform."
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But these concerns, while they have been highlighted in recent months due to Haugen’s whistleblowing, are not new. A 2019 BBC News Arabic investigation found that Middle Eastern women employed as domestic workers were being sold on apps featured on Apple's App Store and Google's Google Play store, including Facebook and Instagram.
"They are not doing the work to ... stop it," Blackburn, a staunch Big Tech critic, said of human trafficking. "We know that traffickers post content on Facebook that allows ... young women to be recruited into forced domestic servitude."
She added that Facebook "knew" about the domestic servitude issue but "chose to do nothing."
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Blackburn also noted how South American cartels also use the platform to smuggle humans and drugs into the U.S. As FOX Business previously reported, the most common platforms among migrants are Facebook and Facebook-owned apps WhatsApp and Instagram.
"What they are not doing is going after criminals ... using them as a storefront to run their business," the Tennessee senator said. "...Facebook needs to be certain that they are policing what they call the ‘new public square.’"
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She added that social media platforms, including but not limited to Facebook, need to be more aware of how criminals are abusing their networks.
Stone in his Sept. 16 statement said the company uses a variety of tools, including artificial intelligence, to detect criminal organizations on the platform but conceded that the issue is "an adversarial space."
And while Facebook has tools "to combat recidivism," he added, it does "find these organizations try to return" to the company’s various platforms, such as Instagram and WhatsApp.