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Social Media Networks Helping Wildlife Traffickers

by Editor's Desk
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The TrickyScribe: Even as social networking sites keep people connected and have other great uses, there are also some typical disadvantages and ways these sites can be misused. Social networking sites, however, have become an established part of everyday life; and, they aren’t going away anytime soon! It is therefore very important to acknowledge the problems that have accompanied in this huge increase in popularity. Take a look!

One fundamental problem that can come with the use of social networking sites is the loss of individual privacy and personal space. Social networking sites involve placing personal information on the Internet. That apart, information placed on the Internet creates a ‘digital footprint’ that can’t be erased as easily as words simply scribbled on a piece of paper. Another serious problem involves sexual predation on social networking sites.

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Cyberbullying is something we’re almost acquainted with. A cyberbully is someone who abuses another person through the Internet or similar technology. Social networking sites are often breeding grounds for such abuse. Being subjected to aforementioned stressers the victims tend to lose social skills; all thanks to the social networking sites. Some argue that there is even a mental disease that should officially be labeled “Internet Addiction Disorder.”

From trivia to disasters, information reaches people as it happens. This is actually keeping them engaged like never before! But how people express or react thereafter, makes social media a double-edged sword.

With social media already playing a crucial role in human trafficking, arms trading and drug smuggling, it is perhaps of no surprise that the illegal wildlife trade is the latest cross-border crime that went online.

Use of Social Media for Illegal Wildlife Trade

Long known as a hub for wildlife trafficking, Southeast Asia’s insalubrious reputation has been exacerbated by social media – with numerous cases of shoppers and vendors bargaining deals while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.

The region’s high penetration of internet and cheap communication rate offers easy access to black market traders. Lack of effective monitoring coupled with the popularity of social media platforms makes cybercrime associated with wildlife is a growing concern.

Southeast Asian Traffickers Unfazed

In 2016, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed to engage with relevant social media platforms, search engines and e-commerce platforms to address illegal international trade in CITES-listed species.

It, however, seems that the international wildlife trade treaty has done little to deter offenders located in Southeast Asia. A man in Indonesia was arrested in January when his alleged involvement in illegal poaching surfaced after he posted a video of himself chopping an endangered hornbill on social media before eating it.

The same month saw a Malaysian arrested on alleged charges of using social media to sell a live pangolin. As many as 3,195 ivory items were listed in Vietnam in 165 advertisements from 53 sellers in 10 groups on social media between January and April 2017, according to a report by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC titled ‘From tusk to trinket: Persistent illegal ivory markets in Vietnam’.

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In Thailand, TRAFFIC found 1,521 live animals available for sale online on 12 Facebook groups in 2016. Titled ‘Trading Faces: A rapid assessment on the use of Facebook to trade wildlife in Thailand’, follow-up research on the same 12 groups showed that only 10 remained. Total membership had almost shot to 203,445 from 106,111.

Of the 200 species offered for sale in the Thai report included two that are critically endangered; the Helmeted Hornbill and Siamese Crocodile. Close to half of the species found in the report do not receive protection under Thailand’s primary wildlife law as they are not native to the country and have no legal protection or regulation.

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Using this technology to scan social media platforms and send a red-flag to authorities once photos of endangered animals on sale are detected would save time and cost – especially since many endangered species are facing extinction on a daily basis.

With the goal of reducing online trafficking up to 80 percent by 2020, the coalition also includes Microsoft and Google as well as e-commerce giants Alibaba and eBay. “In partnership with the world’s biggest online companies, we’re now fighting back against wildlife cybercriminals seeking to exploit web-based platforms to profit from endangered wildlife.”

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