Social Media Is Being Used as a Vehicle for Human Trafficking

We all know how powerful social media can be, but some might not know it plays a prevalent role in one of today's largest international crises: sex trafficking.

In the past year, the UN reports that organizations like Islamic State and Boko Haram have used the "encrypted communications app Telegram to set up online slave auctions, circulating photos of captured Yazidi women, including their age, marital status, current location and price."

Members of the organizations then attempt to sell these women on a range of social platforms that we use every day, like Facebook and WhatsApp.

Though social media may seem invincible at times, the U.N. claims to have "significant untapped leverage on this issue," says co-writer of the report, James Cockayne.

This means involving mechanisms to monitor specific groups' involvement in trafficking, as well as online and real-word hotspots. This way, the 65 million thought to be vulnerable to trafficking can be easier identified, assisted, and protected.

Social media providers may be able to help the situation from their side of the screen as well — using location data and content to pinpoint people susceptible to trafficking, and warn them of any threats.

Nadia Murad Basee Taha is a Yazidi woman who was previously captured, enslaved, and trafficked by the Islamic State. Contrary to the ways social media is used harmfully by said organizations, Taha uses it to fight back. Along with many other advocates, she tweets to encourage her followers to take action and help enslaved women.

"Our commitment to stand before the world powers and force the world to listen will remain steadfast. Those that commit crimes against humanity must be brought to justice so that woman and children can live in peace, not only in Iraq, but Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Libya, Yamen and other marginalized communities throughout the world," reads her website's mission statement.

"Now it is up to the Security Council to take action," says Cockayne. "With partners in the private sector and beyond, to ensure that more people do not suffer her terrible fate." 

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