In 2015, at the height of the migrant crisis in Europe, smugglers were using Facebook as an illicit “travel agency” of sorts, advertising their services and connecting with “customers” on the platform. Three years, and countless deadly sea voyages later, the problem persists.
The UK’s National Crime Agency identified 800 smuggler pages since 2016, said its deputy director Tom Dowdall, in an interview with The Evening Standard. “They are being lured to their deaths using an application that they are using every day of the week,” he told the paper. The pages offer transportation or documents for would-be migrants.
Overall, the number of migrants arriving in Europe by sea has declined sharply since the height of the crisis in 2015, but there’s been a surge in deaths this summer, totaling more than 700 in June and July.
Facebook takes the pages down, but new ones quickly pop up, law enforcement representatives and advocates have been saying since 2015. They complain that Facebook is not doing enough to combat the problem, relying on outside reports, instead of being proactive. “The technology exists with big providers like Facebook and others to develop the right algorithms… to identify what look like risky pages. They are not stepping up in the way we would want,” Dowdall told The Standard.
Last September, a spokesperson for the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) had similar complaints, Quartz reported.
“The problem is the tech companies—Facebook—think it’s all about us telling them which Facebook pages are supported by criminals,” said Leonard Doyle of IOM. “First of all, that’s not our job, and we don’t have the resources. It’s their platform, not ours.” It takes the company as long as three months after receiving a report to take down a smuggler page, he said.
Facebook told Quartz the platform does not allow smuggler pages or related content. “We work closely with law enforcement agencies around the world including Europol to identify, remove and report this illegal activity,” a spokesperson said. They added that the company is working on improving ways to identify and take down the content, and is adding staff to its safety and security teams.