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Report: Human smugglers increasingly use Facebook to advertise services on the US-Mexico border

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The influx of migrants, above all unaccompanied minors, on the southern border of the United States, has overflowed government resources over the past month and posed a major challenge to the Biden administration. The administration has also confronted smugglers who in some cases have marketed their services on Facebook, according to a critique of the platform, which has failed to meet its content moderation commitments.

Of the 50 Facebook pages identified in the Technical Transparency Project report, more than half were created since mid-November, and a last one appeared a dozen last month. Most pages used descriptors such as “coyote,” a term commonly used by human smugglers, to indicate the service being offered. Sometimes the pages were also classified as “travel company” or “product / service”.

The content of each page, however, was similar: selling the trip to the United States. The names of the pages, including “Safe Crossing,” translated to “Safe Crossing,” as well as “Travel to the United States,” translated to “Travel to the United States,” and “Cruse to the United States,” translated to “cross to the United States.” .

“We prohibit content you offer or contribute to human smuggling. We have removed this content and will continue to do so. We will review this report once we see it and take action against anything that violates our policies,” a Facebook spokesman said. on CNN.

Facebook’s algorithm may be exacerbating the problem by displaying similar pages to users, according to the group. “On related pages, at least a third of the pages we identified, Facebook posted us on related pages, especially travel pages. Facebook would recommend other travel pages, but they were smuggled pages,” Katie Paul said. , director of the Nonprofit Technical Transparency Project. “The algorithm is really creating this amplification.”

A smuggling incident along the southern U.S. border recently gained national headlines, when the Border Patrol posted the video of two young Ecuadorian sisters fallen on a 14-meter-high border fence in the desert.

“The inhumane way that smugglers abuse children while taking advantage of parental despair is criminal and morally reprehensible,” National Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. “Just this month, a young woman drowned, a six-month-old boy was thrown into the river and two young children were dropped from a wall and left alone in the desert.”

US Customs and Border Protection captured more than 172,000 people trying to cross the US-Mexico border in March, 71% more than in February. And migrants, fleeing deteriorating conditions in Latin America, still rely on smugglers.

The Technology Transparency Project used searches such as “travel to the United States” (travel to the United States) and “cross to the United States” (“cross the United States”) to identify Facebook pages that advertise services to cross illegally the border between the US and Mexico. .

“We used the platform in the same way that anyone looking for these services would do,” Paul said.

Posts range from videos, allegedly about migrants crossing the border, to travel arrangements and questions from Facebook users about who expels the U.S. and who may be allowed to stay.

“Some of these Facebook pages offer detailed descriptions of the travel arrangements they offer, as well as the cost of a single person’s pass, usually in the thousands of dollars. Others simply post cryptic images of buses with flag emojis. indicating the United States as the final destination and expecting users to express interest, “the report found.

The Facebook spokesman said they have seen State Department cases using their platform to share information made with people considering making the trip to the US.
Facebook will not notify the 533 million users exposed to the online database

Human smugglers around the world have taken advantage of social media before to advertise their services, Paul said, making a wider network of who they can reach.

“It’s absolutely a tool that (smugglers) use, but at the same time, these kinds of networks work through trust,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at George Mason University who studies networks. of migrant smuggling, also emphasizing word of mouth. plays a role.

“They make use of these websites to advertise their products … It’s just an additional tool that these networks operate through trust,” he told CNN, adding that he has seen an increase in smugglers advertising their services. the last few months after a difficult year for Central America.

“Criminal organizations have become more sophisticated in marketing their services,” said Democrat Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas. “They control everything, the routes, the complicit authorities.”

The United States has launched a campaign abroad to deter migrants from making the perilous journey north. The US Embassy in Guatemala posted a testimonial on Twitter, showing a woman with a blurred face, describing her journey with smugglers. “We walked for five days and five nights. They only gave you preserves and we had run out of water,” he says, in Spanish. “You will suffer a long way.” The video aims to warn immigrants not to risk their lives.
The Biden administration it also ran nearly 28,000 radio ads in Latin America as part of an intensified campaign to deter people from traveling to the United States.

CNN’s Brian Fung contributed to this report.

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