U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin
Press Release

Baldwin Calls on Meta to Confront Drug Trafficking, Human Smuggling on Platforms

 

By - Feb 16th, 2023 08:10 am

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) joined her Democratic colleagues in sounding the alarm on Meta’s failure to address malicious actors’ exploitation of its platforms – including Facebook and WhatsApp – to facilitate drug trafficking and human smuggling in the Western Hemisphere.

In a letter to Meta Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the senators cited numerous investigations’ findings regarding the company’s entirely inadequate content moderation and enforcement mechanisms, particularly for Spanish-language content, and underscored the need for Meta to take urgent action to address these harmful shortcomings.

“Despite Facebook’s acknowledgment that human smuggling and drug trafficking activities violate its community standards …. [p]revious reporting has found that drug cartels in Latin America and the Caribbean widely use Meta’s platforms to traffic drugs, recruit members and smugglers, extort victims, and publish hit lists,” the senators wrote. “Meta has an obligation to address these challenges …. We urge you to immediately dedicate renewed attention and resources to this crisis, and we request that you provide us with additional information regarding what steps Meta is prepared to take to prevent human smugglers and drug traffickers from utilizing its platform and address the significant real-world harms these activities have caused.”

In addition to highlighting these activities’ damaging impact on vulnerable communities across Latin America and the Caribbean, the senators also emphasized that Meta’s failure to dedicate sufficient resources to address human smuggling, disinformation, and drug trafficking on its platforms poses a direct threat to U.S. interests.

“The Drug Enforcement Agency’s announcement in December 2021 that Mexican drug cartels are using Meta’s platforms to ‘flood our country with fentanyl’ underscores the need for urgent action,” the senators added, asserting that the open advertisement of human smuggling and drug trafficking services contributes to transnational crime in the region and challenges at the United States’ Southwestern border. “We urge you to take our concerns seriously and …. welcome your continued engagement in order to ensure that moving forward Meta’s platforms reinforce, rather than undermine, human rights and good governance worldwide.”

In addition to Senator Baldwin, the letter was signed by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

We write to express our alarm over Meta’s repeated failure to address the fact that malicious actors are exploiting its platforms to facilitate human smuggling and drug trafficking in developing countries, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Given the immense damage these crimes cause to communities across the Western Hemisphere, Meta has an obligation to address these challenges; one it is currently falling short of. We urge you to immediately dedicate renewed attention and resources to this crisis, and we request that you provide us with additional information regarding what steps Meta is prepared to take to prevent human smugglers and drug traffickers from utilizing its platform and address the significant realworld harms these activities have caused.

Numerous investigations, including those conducted by the Tech Transparency Project, have documented how human smugglers openly use Facebook to exploit vulnerable migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. These investigations found that human smugglers commonly use Facebook Marketplace to advertise their services and that such posts are often monetized by Facebook. They also found more than 90 Facebook pages and 20 groups, generally in Spanish, advertising human smuggling services to cross the U.S. border. These pages and groups, which often included several thousands of members and followers, operated openly on the platform for several months, providing users with routes, modes of transit, prices, discounts, and WhatsApp contact information for smugglers. Although the Tech Transparency Project reported this content to Facebook, your company failed to remove nearly half the content flagged after Tech Transparency’s initial April 2021 investigation.

The Tech Transparency Project’s investigations also found that human smuggling groups and pages on Facebook were rife with blatant lies intended to attract and deceive prospective migrants and asylum seekers and served as vehicles for drug cartels to advertise their activities. Previous reporting has found that drug cartels in Latin America and the Caribbean widely use Meta’s platforms to traffic drugs, recruit members and smugglers, extort victims, and publish hit lists. The open advertisement of human smuggling and drug trafficking services and the prevalence of disinformation about the U.S. immigration system on Facebook contributes to transnational crime in the region and the challenges experienced by the United States at its Southwestern border. The amplification of these activities by Facebook’s own algorithm only exacerbates these challenges.

Despite Facebook’s acknowledgment that human smuggling and drug trafficking activities violate its community standards, internal documents published by the Wall Street Journal reveal that your company’s response to these issues has been inadequate and unacceptable, particularly in developing countries and for Spanish-language and other non-English content. To provide one example, these documents reveal that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, one of the most dangerous and prominent Mexican drug cartels, openly recruited, trained, and paid hit men using Meta’s platforms, and that even when Meta was made aware of these activities, it failed to fully remove the cartel from its platforms. They also reveal that Meta devoted significantly fewer resources to address the harms its platforms caused in developing countries relative to those spent addressing U.S.-specific content.

It is imperative that Meta take seriously Facebook and WhatsApp’s emerging roles as tools used to support human smuggling and drug trafficking operations in developing countries. This should particularly be the case in Latin America and the Caribbean, where human smuggling and drug trafficking activities are widely documented and not only harm local populations, but also significantly, adversely affect U.S. national interests. The Drug Enforcement Agency’s announcement in December 2021 that Mexican drug cartels are using Meta’s platforms to “flood our country with fentanyl” underscores the need for urgent action

We urge you to take our concerns seriously and devote prompt attention to these matters. We look forward to your response, and welcome your continued engagement in order to ensure that moving forward Meta’s platforms reinforce, rather than undermine, human rights and good governance worldwide.

Sincerely,

An online version of this release is available here.

NOTE: This press release was submitted to Urban Milwaukee and was not written by an Urban Milwaukee writer. It has not been verified for its accuracy or completeness.

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