LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - People smugglers are using Facebook to broadcast the abuse and torture of migrants in order to extort ransom money from their families, the U.N. migration agency said on Friday.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) lambasted the tech giant for failing to police the platform and help crack down on traffickers.
One video hosted on the site since June shows Libyan gangmasters threatening emaciated and abused migrants - mostly Somalis and Ethiopians - huddled in a concrete room.
IOM said the traffickers had sent clips to the captives’ families via the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp - a Facebook channel - along with threats that their loved ones would be killed unless ransoms of up to $10,000 were paid.
One young Somali man is seen lying face down with a concrete block on his back. “I was asked for $8,000,” he says, according to the IOM. “They broke my teeth. They broke my hand. I have been here 11 months. They put this stone on me for the last three days. It’s really painful.”
British newspaper The Times, which ran the story on its front page on Friday, also quoted a young Ethiopian who had been held for 15 months. “They beat me with iron bars,” he said.
“They ordered me to pay $8,300 and my family cannot afford to pay that amount.”
Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe since 2014, and thousands have died trying.
Facebook, which has also been criticized for failing to stop traffickers using the platform to advertise their services, said posts by smuggling groups would be removed if reported.
“We encourage people to keep using our reporting tools to flag this kind of behavior so it can be reviewed and swiftly removed by our global team of experts, who work with law enforcement agencies around the world,” a spokesperson said.
But Facebook said it had not removed the June video as it had been posted by a Somali journalist and was important for raising awareness of the problem.
However, IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle accused Facebook of “arrant nonsense”, adding that the smugglers had used the journalist to publicize their demands.
He told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it was totally inappropriate for Facebook to host a video showing the faces of vulnerable people being abused.
“Don’t let Facebook off the hook here,” he said. “It’s an absolutely nonsensical argument that it’s up to the public to notify Facebook of stuff that’s happening on Facebook.
“They should invest heavily in policing their platforms to stop vulnerable migrants being exploited, extorted and murdered.”
Doyle said the IOM had tried without success to talk to Facebook about targeting smugglers.
“They should stop smugglers telling people there’s an El Dorado waiting for them in Europe when it’s a lie,” he added.
“It’s not good enough to say, ‘we are a technology platform, it’s got nothing to do with us’.”
Doyle said the IOM had tried to find the people in the video, but they had disappeared.
Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.