The International Organization for Migration (IOM) — also known as the UN Migration Agency — is calling on social media giants Facebook and Whatsapp to be more responsible in blocking traffickers from using their platforms to lure West African migrants to Libya.
In recent weeks, footage of slave markets in Libya has shocked the world, and social media has had its own role in furthering the abuses. Speaking to Thomson Reuters Foundation, IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle explained that traffickers often use social media to trick African migrants with promises of jobs in Europe. The platforms have even becomes tools for demanding ransom:
When migrants are tortured, video is also sometimes sent back to their families over WhatsApp, as a means of extortion, he said.
“We really … ask social media companies to step up and behave in a responsible way when people are being lured to deaths, to their torture,” Doyle told a Geneva news briefing.
IOM has been in discussions with social media providers about its concerns, Doyle said, adding: “And so far to very little effect. What they say is ‘please tell us the pages and we will shut them down’.
“It is not our job to police Facebook’s pages. Facebook should police its own pages,” he said.
Part of the problem lies in Facebook’s rapid expansion into West Africa, where there are high levels of unemployment. Doyle added that this is what makes it easy for traffickers to prey on migrants: “Facebook is pushing out, seeking market share across West Africa and pushing out so-called free basics, which allows … a ‘dumb phone’ to get access to Facebook. So you are one click from the smuggler, one click from the lies.”
IOM has helped 13,000 migrants to return voluntarily to Nigeria, Guinea, and other countries from Libya this year alone. It provides them with transport and pocket money and documents their abuses.