Eyes on Washington week ending 04.20.18

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Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg testified at congressional hearings earlier this month for the company’s role in the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica’s, exploitation of weaknesses in Facebook’s privacy controls to collect personal information about 87 million people without their consent. During the proceeding he was also questioned about Facebook’s role in facilitating the illegal trade in wildlife products.

The Associated Press and other media outlets reported on an anonymous whistleblower complaint filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in August 2017 by the law firm Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto.

The complaint alleges that Facebook is knowingly profiting from the trafficking of endangered species; explains how Facebook failed to implement the necessary and required internal controls to curtail criminal activity occurring on Facebook’s social media pages; and how Facebook is engaged in the business of selling advertisements on the web pages it knows or should have known were being used by traffickers to market endangered species animal parts.

When questioned about wildlife trafficking and other illegal activity happening on Facebook during his testimony Zuckerberg stated, “the company could do a better job.” A statement released by Facebook on the matter said, “Its community standards forbid the sale of wildlife, endangered species or their parts.” The company said it removes groups engaging in illegal conduct when it’s identified.

Facebook is one of 20 technology companies that joined the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, which was organized by Google and the World Wildlife Fund. Weeks after the March 7th announcement, an AP reporter was able to see scores of internationally banned wildlife products for sale in public and private Facebook groups, most based in Southeast Asia.

Among the items available were belts made from what appeared to be the fur of Bengal tigers, a critically endangered species; tiger teeth, horns from black rhinos, and elephant ivory—all
species heavily targeted by poachers.

Negotiations over price and delivery are often initiated by Facebook Messenger. Instagram and WhatsApp, two social media platforms also owned by Facebook, are also sometimes used by traffickers.

Trafficking investigators are calling on federal security regulators to force Facebook to immediately freeze accounts being used by illegal traffickers and cooperate with international law enforcement to identify the individuals involved for prosecution.

“The amount of ivory being traded on Facebook is horrifying,” said Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime, which has analyzed online groups where wildlife goods are being marketed. “I have looked at thousands of posts containing ivory, and I am convinced that Facebook is literally facilitating the extinction of the elephant species.”

“Extinctions are forever so it is an urgent necessity to stop the trafficking on Facebook of critically endangered species immediately and forever,” said Stephen M. Kohn.

“Part of the SEC’s responsibility is to ensure that Facebook investors aren’t unwittingly involved with the criminal trafficking of endangered species,” Kohn added.

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Endangered Species Act

Join WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society’s call to action to protect and defend the Endangered Species Act. Tell Congress to protect the ESA not destroy it! Contact your representatives in Congress via the web at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov
And “Let your voice be heard!”

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