As illegal traffickers push wildlife species toward extinction and park rangers die in gunfights with poachers, Facebook is giving a helping hand to those selling and buying endangered wildlife and their parts, according to a new report.
The Menlo Park social media giant’s alleged role in the illegal trade has drawn a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission and calls from senior Congressmen for an investigation.
Elephant ivory, lion claws, even rhino horn are offered for sale on Facebook, according to the report.
The SEC complaint claims that “by facilitating illegal acts via its platform, profiting from it in the form of ads, and failing to disclose the risk of this type of abuse to its shareholders, Facebook is violating Securities and Exchange Commission regulations governing publicly traded companies,” according to Wired, which added that the complaint from the National Whistleblower Center was filed in August but not reported on till last month.
Facebook said its community standards “do not allow for poaching, the sale of wildlife, endangered species or their parts,” the company said in a statement.
“We immediately remove this material as soon as we are aware. We have many systems in place to prevent the sale of illegal goods, and do not allow ads around the sale of endangered animals.”
The complaint drew support from Democrat Congressmen Raúl Grijalva and Jared Huffman, ranking members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, who called on the SEC to investigate.
“The sales of vast quantities of illegal wildlife goods through Facebook is facilitating the extinction of rare and threatened species,” the Congressmen wrote in a May 14 letter to the SEC.
“Facebook is knowingly profiting from advertisements promoting the sales of illegal products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn, bear claws, tiger skins, and reptiles.”
Deep investigations by several organizations have confirmed that “systematic” illegal trading of endangered wildlife “regularly occurred” on Facebook, the Congressmen wrote.
“Facebook’s lack of disclosure of the illegal activity facilitated by its site and its failure to take adequate steps to address that activity are both violations of SEC rules.”
Conservationists behind the complaint believe stopping online sales is “the only way to efficiently slow down the wildlife trade before animals like elephants and rhinos are hunted into extinction,” Wired reported.
But tech companies are shielded by federal law preventing them from being held liable for third-party content, Wired pointed out.
“This has shielded companies and left the task of rooting out criminals online to law-enforcement agencies,” according to Wired.
“In the world of wildlife trafficking, that often means targeting poachers in national parks, while the wealthy buyers and sellers remain online—and thus virtually untouchable.”
A Facebook spokesperson said the company worked with non-governmental organizations to gather tips about potential violations of its community standards covering poaching and trade in endangered species. The firm has worked in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund on the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, the spokesperson said.