Facebook purges ads for illegal wildlife in SE Asia

Platform News: Facebook on a smartphone

An advertisement showing a civet cat cowering in a cage being offered for sale on Facebook was one of countless that the social network has removed in a crackdown on Southeast Asia’s illegal wildlife trade.

“Not too wild, not too-well behaved. If interested, call…” the seller wrote on the article, using an account in Myanmar, a significant source and transit point for the trade in wild animals.

Facebook has a ban on the sale of animals on its platform.

However, in the five months through May 2020, a report seen by journalists showed World Wildlife Fund researchers had counted 2,143 wild creatures from 94 species available on Facebook from Myanmar alone.

The majority of articles — 92% — provided animals, including birds of prey, while gibbons, langurs, wild cats, and hornbills have been in high demand.

Wildlife charities said over 500 articles, reports, and groups were taken down in April and July after they alerted Facebook, which said its staffers eliminate content that breaches rules.

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Campaigners say the advent of zoonotic diseases like the novel coronavirus, which is suspected of having jumped from animals to people, has not quashed demand from buyers.

Southeast Asia is an important hub in the multi-billion dollar global wildlife trade and, according to monitors, social media is being increasingly used by sellers because of its massive reach and functions.

“It’s increasing in every country,” said Jedsada Taweekan, a regional program manager for WWF, adding that the quantity of wildlife products sold online had roughly doubled since 2015.

Myanmar came under fire in recent weeks over plans to permit breeding of about 175 species including pangolins and tigers. Naing Zaw Htun, a senior forestry department official, told Reuters social media had become”one of the major drivers of the wildlife trafficking”, and the purpose of the captive breeding plan was to reduce poaching.

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Fighting the illegal wildlife trade that was online poses a challenge for governments throughout the region said Elizabeth John, senior communications officer for TRAFFIC.


She said Facebook had been “very proactive in trying to address the online trade” but faced a “considerable logistical challenge” monitoring articles.

A study by TRAFFIC published in early July discovered more than items for sale across Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam on Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

TRAFFIC said 557 from 600 posts, groups and profiles flagged to Facebook were removed. WWF said four Facebook accounts and seven classes, each with tens of thousands of members, were removed in response to their study in Myanmar.

The company says it uses a mixture of engineering and reports from NGOs and others to detect and remove content.

Relying on tip-offs isn’t good enough, said Michael Lwin, founder of Myanmar-based tech start-up Koe Koe Tech.

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“Social media platforms in general need a more systematic response,” Lwin said.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Thu Thu Aung. Writing and additional reporting by Poppy McPherson. Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore.

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