Nearly two decades into the 21st century, more than 2.5 billion people use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Youtube. There’s no doubt that these types of digital realms alter human interaction and communication. Many users view these high-tech advances as ways to connect with communities they might not have been able to connect with otherwise. Unfortunately not everyone with social media accounts use them solely to stay connected with old friends and distant relatives; human traffickers utilize social media to recruit, run operations and control their victims. Here are eight facts about modern-day slavery in Europe and how social media affects human trafficking.
8 Facts About How Social Media Affects Human Trafficking
- Human trafficking doesn’t only include forced transportation for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. In addition to servitude and prostitution, trafficking also consists of the removal of vital organs and forced criminality, such as pickpocketing, shoplifting and drug trafficking.
- Human traffickers lure, abduct and control victims solely for their own financial gain. They may lure victims by offering an escape from extreme poverty or abusive homes. As Professor AnnJanette Rosga, who oversaw the “Research on Child Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina” report stated, “the global sex trade is as much a product of everyday people struggling to survive in dire economic straits as it is an organized crime problem.” Some individuals and families believe that the financial benefits will outweigh the costs of modern-day slavery or that victims will be able to escape. Addressing root causes of what makes people vulnerable to human trafficking, such as poverty, lack of job opportunity and lack of safe migration opportunities, will certainly decrease the prevalence of human trafficking.
- Developing European countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania each have millions of internet users. These and other Eastern European countries oftentimes have histories filled with corruption, civil strife and authoritarian government that contribute to high unemployment levels, leaving civilians vulnerable. Young girls and women struggling with poverty create optimal conditions for criminals to connect with vulnerable people like them without immediately exposing themselves as criminals.
- “Poly-criminal” gangs create fake social media accounts, marketing them as employment agencies to target young and vulnerable victims. Hiding behind fake profile pictures and information can transform any criminal into someone who might seem trustworthy, especially to young people who want to help their families living in poverty.
- Likewise, human traffickers will manipulate their victims’ social media accounts to maintain control. Social media oftentimes seems like a connection to friends and family members, but traffickers will restrict or monitor use of social media to keep their victims powerless.
- The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization, works against human trafficking in several countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Albania. The OSCE recommends combating modern-day slavery through a three-step framework: prevention, which includes raising awareness and addressing root problems, prosecution, which includes investigation and cooperation with international law enforcement, and protection of victims’ rights, which includes assistance and compensation.
- La Strada International is a leading network of eight independent organizations that work on a grassroots level to combat human trafficking in Europe. La Strada has offices in Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine, but they lobby at the international level, advocating for changes in policy and stressing the importance of human rights.
- Ariadne is a regional network of 16 organizations in 12 countries, dedicated to combating human trafficking in Southeastern and Eastern Europe. Their most recent joint project focuses on developing effective reintegration models for survivors of human trafficking in the Western Balkans.
While the Information Age continues to bring about life-altering knowledge and technologies, there are always those who will manipulate technological advances for criminal activity. With increasingly new gadgets and technologies, 21st-century caveats include cybersecurity and data privacy issues as well as catfishing. While poverty, lack of opportunity and weak labor rights are some causes for humanitarian injustices, high prevalence and ease for traffickers to disguise themselves and their intentions are how social media affects human trafficking.
– Keeley Griego