Facebook Jeopardizes Migrant Lives, Senior British Law Enforcement Chief Says

A top British police chief accused Facebook of failing to shutter pages used to coordinate human trafficking, thereby leading to migrants' deaths in the Mediterranean.

Tom Dowdall, deputy director of the National Crime Agency, Britain's top law enforcement agency, said that organized crime gangs were linked to hundreds of sites related to migrant transit. Smugglers use the site to advertise their services. 

"Since December 2016, we have identified over 800 Facebook pages which we consider as being associated with organized immigration crime," Dowdall told The Evening Standard. "[They are] largely offering vessels, documents, transport services. There is enough we are seeing to indicate to us that it supports criminality."

The total number of migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea has steadily dropped since peaking in 2015, when more than 1 million migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea. Over 363,500 people reached the continent by boat in 2016, and more than 171,600 arrived by sea in 2017. Likewise, more than 58,000 migrants have landed in Europe via the Mediterranean so far this year.

More than 1,500 migrants have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe in 2018, according to the United Nations. Over 700 of those deaths have occurred in the past two months. 

RTS1WPGQ Migrants rescued by NGO Proactiva Open Arms' rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea stand on board before arriving at the port of Algeciras in San Roque, southern Spain on August 9. A top British law enforcement officer said that Facebook needed to better regulate pages used by migrant smugglers. REUTERS/Juan Medina

"They are being lured to their deaths using an application that they are using every day of the week," said Dowdall, adding that the tech giant has the capacity to better regulate the pages used by migrant smugglers. The police chief noted that the sites are eventually taken down by Facebook, but underscored that the company was not acting quickly enough. He also said the social media company has the capacity to prevent the pages from initially appearing.

"Facebook have developed a fantastic ability to be able to identify patterns and how everybody operates on a day to day basis," he said. "This is no different: there will be patterns that are developed here which we know that Facebook and others can be onto really quickly. We need their cooperation to be able to identify and to either close down these sites or be able to further investigate them."

A Facebook spokesperson told Newsweek that the company was continually evaluating its processes for making the platform safer.

"People smuggling is illegal and any ads, posts, pages or groups that coordinate this activity are not allowed on Facebook. We work closely with law enforcement agencies around the world including Europol to identify, remove and report this illegal activity," the spokesperson said.

Quartz reported that the platform, which has 1.47 billion users, has for years struggled to regulate advertisements for migrant smugglers. Dowdall's accusation is the latest criticism of Facebook, which has faced a range of negative attention for its management of user data. 

Last month, the social media giant's stocks witnessed their most significant single-day drop, and the company lost $119 billion. 

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