Human Trafficking and Social Media

Who remembers being taught the idea of "stranger danger?" As children, we were told never accept a stranger's request to speak with them or be alone with them. We can often remember that going into a stranger's white van was extreme danger. Social media is now used as predators and traffickers "white van." Because we are so enthralled with the technological advances we experience through social media, we often ignore the dangers of speaking with strangers or sharing personal information with unknown bodies. Targeting victims through social media has made human trafficking much simpler. Instead of having to stalk, follow, or speak to a potential victim, traffickers can click a button and find several victims at once. 

What is common with human traffickers? They're adaptable and cunning. Traffickers understand how technology advances and learn how to use it to their benefit. One FBI specialist shared with Thomas Reuters Foundation how traffickers use websites and chat rooms to target victims. "They [the traffickers] are keeping up with technology and exploiting it for their purposes, their illegal businesses. They’re not opposed to using what’s available to them."

How do traffickers use social media to target victims? To answer this question, let me ask another question: What's a common theme you see on social media? People posting how depressed or hard their life is. I'm sure at one point or another, you've posted that you're having a hard day or life is too horrible. Many minors will make similar posts, as a seemingly innocent way to get sympathy from followers and vent their frustrations. A trafficker, on the other hand, will see these posts and realize they've got a new target. Traffickers, after taking the time to read similar posts or view different photos, will "approach" that person (or child) and tell them what they want to hear. For example, a 14-year-old girl named Mary posts how she thinks she is so ugly. "Nobody will love a face like mine!" she shares. Another "14-year-old girl" comments saying, "You're so beautiful!" The self-conscious Mary contacts the other girl, thanking her for her words. Little does Mary know that her soon-to-be "girl friend" is actually a 30-something old man pretending to be a 14-year-old girl. This is just a fictional example, but this does happen. 

As stated by Fight The New Drug, "After trust is built, traffickers will convince the potential victim to meet up with them or may even coerce the potential victim to send a risky picture, which the trafficker can then use to extort the potential victim."

The Human Trafficking Institute reported that in 2020, over 50% of online recruitment cases for human trafficking came from Facebook. Even worse, the report shared that "65% of identified child sex trafficking victims recruited on social media were recruited through Facebook." Instagram and Snapchat were also responsible for online recruitment of children in 2020. This is a major problem, and it won't go away. We live in a technological era and are reliant on technology. So how do we fight this issue?

The answer, believe it or not, isn't to get rid of social media. At least in the case for adults. You can use social media platforms like Tik Tok or Instagram to educate children and teenagers. If you follow me on Instagram, majority of my Reels involve information about human trafficking and domestic abuse. Through these short videos, you can inform thousands or more on these dark subjects. Social media can also be used for good, not just evil. With younger children and even teenagers, parents have to be vigilant. It's easy to say, "My child knows better." There's no way to avoid this. It's better to be safe than sorry, wouldn't you agree? There is more hope. An affiliate of Fight The New Drug called Bark helps fight the issue of potential trafficking. There is an algorithm that alerts parents of predators contacting their children. You should constantly teach your children to not accept messages from random accounts. You should also tell your child they can trust you. Often, children victimized by human trafficking think that their trafficker knows what is best for them, instead of a parent or mentor. Constantly tell your children they can trust you. 

We live in scary times, but that doesn't mean we just have to sit back and allow it to happen. The solution to fighting online recruitment and human trafficking is simple. In order to prevent children from longing for safety from strangers, we must continue to be vigilant, compassionate, and vocal. The safety of our fellow man has never been more important.

If you suspect human trafficking or know someone in a human trafficking situation, contact law enforcement or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to 233733.

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