Social Media: Making Targeting Easier for Human Traffickers
In our current digital age, social media makes the world go round. There are so many online outlets that are used in order for us to remain in contact with our friends and family like: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. According to the Polaris Project, the internet has dramatically reshaped how we buy and sell things, including each other. Social media is used by traffickers to recruit victims, to proliferate their trafficking operations, and to control victims through restricting their social media access, impersonating the victims or spreading rumors online.
According to Venture Beat, traffickers worldwide are increasing their use of social media to contact vulnerable teenagers to sell them into sex work, quick to adopt the latest online platforms popular with young people. Because of this, it has created challenges for law enforcement. Human trafficking had once been limited to luring victims on the streets, but because of social media, it has now allowed traffickers to message thousands of people through different social media platforms.
Social media is extremely popular among young people, but has become somewhat of a tool to manipulate those that are easily influenced. Human traffickers are gifted with the tool to create fake profiles and pretend to be friends with people in order to gain trust and manipulate them into meeting them in person to be sex trafficked. It is a grooming tactic where they offer empty promises of love, security, or even a relationship - platonic or romantic - in order to gain that trust.
Reuters has stated that instead of lurking in shopping malls and parks, predators who befriend and sell children for sex now hang out on social media sites to stay one step ahead of rapidly-evolving criminal gangs.
According to Internet Safety 101, if the link between social media and human trafficking remains unchecked, human trafficking will continue to flourish in environments where traffickers can reap substantial monetary gains with relatively low risk of getting caught or losing profits. Despite growing awareness about this crime, it continues to go under-reported due to its covert nature, misconceptions about its definition, and a lack of awareness about its indicators.
Although social media has offered us with the opportunity to make as many friends as we like, unfortunately, that is not always the case. Some of these people are not who they appear to be and their profile or online avatar might not match their real life personality. They are playing a role and these people will only go along with what makes these victims feel good in order to keep them coming back. It is how human traffickers lure their victims because they will only play the role that is appealing to their victim.
Social media has made the targeting easier for human traffickers to recruit and for law enforcement to pinpoint them harder. It does not have to be this way, and we have a hand in making that quite easier.
One tip is to try and not make your location so accessible. Snapchat and Twitter allow us to tell our friends where our location is when we send out a Tweet or take a Snap. Human traffickers can be watching those profiles, especially if your account is not private. It is safer to keep certain aspects of your personal life offline, and your location is definitely one of them.
Also, be aware of the accounts that are following you. If you feel that an account looks suspicious or is up to some weird activity, report and block their account. The same way that we have to use our gut when someone could be running a human trafficking ring in our community, we have to have that same discernment online and speak up when we see strange activity whether it is online or not.
This is not an issue that is going to change overnight, and being that social media has added onto the weight of the problem, we have to remain diligent and continue to be aware of our online surroundings. Keep an eye out for warning signs, and keep the National Human Trafficking Hotline on speed dial: 1-(888)-373-7888. You never know when that number might come in handy and it is better to remain safe than sorry. We are all in this world together, so continue to be a friend and help others who you feel might need help. Trust your gut because oftentimes it is right.
About the Author
Kendra Martin is currently a senior at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, studying mass communications with a minor in applied communications. She is excited to be apart of the Dressember family, learn from everyone involved and to help end the fight against human trafficking. She loves listening to music, writing in her journal, reading multiple books at a time, sunflowers, corny puns and sleeping in.