Animal Thrives on Facebook

Technology Policy Brief #58 | By: JA Angelo | April 22, 2022

Header photo taken from: World Wildlife (.org)




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Facebook’s latest low mark: selling illegal and threatened animal parts.

Photo taken from: Christian Science Monitor

Policy Summary

With the discovery of the internet, the illegal sale of wildlife became even more popular around the world. Some of the more popular animals and animal parts poachers sold included elephant ivory, tiger cubs, rhino horns, and pangolin scales.

It wasn’t until 2018 when Facebook, now known as Meta, partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to create The Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online. The mission of this coalition is to reduce illegal wildlife trafficking by 80% within two years. However, a recent study discovered cheetahs, elephant tusks, tiger cubs, and other endangered species on Facebook rather easily. One Facebook page depicting a pangolin in a cage and various illegal animal trafficking keywords as the page’s title. Some of these pages and groups blatantly show phone numbers and other poachers contact details. 

The minimal effort it took for these researchers to locate these pages illustrates that Facebook’s algorithms do not align with its policies or social responsibility to deter wildlife trafficking. “Instead of using the data to help combat wildlife trafficking, their algorithms instead help criminals grow their business,” said Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online. Instead of addressing the issue, Meta went on the defensive against the researchers by questioning the validity of the study and its results.

Policy Analysis

A Meta spokesperson said: “We’ve pioneered technology to help us find and remove this content; launched pop-up alerts to discourage people from participating in this trade.” The spokesperson makes it appear that there is little Meta can do to prevent such events from occurring.

However, looking at the success of tagging “misinformation” during the events leading up to the 2020 presidential election, anyone can safely and accurately come to the conclusion that Meta does not take wildlife trafficking seriously. In fact, we can assume that the company supports wildlife trafficking.

Likewise, hunting-related content on Facebook results in an algorithm flagging the content as “inappropriate” or banning the poster’s account. 

This is surprising to some given Mark Zuckerberg is an avid game hunter. He is seen in various photos hunting wild boar with a spear and other game with a crossbow. 

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Mark Zuckerberg joins wild boar hunt.

Photo taken from: The Times

This, again, is an indication that Meta is capable of doing better at creating algorithms to detect, flag, and ban accounts that attempt to post information on wildlife trafficking and trophy hunting.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

WWF Logo 1986

The World Wildlife Fund is an international organization created in 1961 after the destruction of habitats and wildlife in East Africa. It’s first establishments included the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. 

The World Wildlife Fund assisted the United States by leading conservation projects in Alaska, and the northern Great Plains. The international organization has assisted in conservation efforts around the world. Some of the organizations earliest animal conservation projects included the bald eagle, the Hawaiian sea bird, and the red wolf. 

Some international projects included those of lions, elephants, primates, and pandas. World Wildlife Fund efforts also have included creating conservation areas and national parks. The organization also has  done work to protect the oceans and endangered species of fish. The World Wildlife Fund lobbied on Capital Hill advocating for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is the first trade convention that addresses the environment. 

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