Social networks are failing to keep up with black-market wildlife trade

Legal experts warn that the internet is a bustling bazaar where exotic animal traffickers operate in plain sight.

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If you asked a wildlife trafficker what business online looked like, they'd probably say, "Prosperous." According to National Geographic, illegal markets selling wildlife like caracals and servals alongside exotic horns and hides of other animals have found eager consumers online.

Social media networks have become virtual bazaars for bad actors. One of the suspected traders, Christopher Casacci, is currently facing 33 charges in terms of trafficking exotic African cats, the report notes. If convicted, the 38-year-old could be fined $1.3 million and sent to jail for life. Casacci's case points to a much more pervasive network of black markets online — and how social media company owners are failing to address and limit the deluge of animal trafficking, which experts believe only broad and cutthroat legal reforms can do.

Any platform works — Former special agent Craig Tabor was previously tasked with leading the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's intelligence agency. Now he works with the unit's international outfit. Tabor told National Geographic that miscreants in the United States build links with operators in Tanzania, China, and Indonesia, and the report also notes that trade will take place in a multilingual setting: English, Vietnamese, Arabic, and other languages. In other words, opening up to multiple regions and millions of customers.

Per Tabor, criminals will use any social media platform, relying on double-meaning terms and code that can easily slip under moderators' radar. The most frequented platform for this kind has been, so far, Facebook but it's not limited just there; Instagram and WhatsApp too have their fair share of illegal wildlife trade. On more than one occasion, Facebook has insisted that it is aggressively targeting and removing these groups, pages, and accounts but legal experts say that the effort fails to be a sustainable remedy.

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Get tougher or face the consequences — Groups like the Alliance to Counter Crime Online and the National Whistleblower Center insist that Facebook needs to apply much more forceful legal action as the network has seen over 473 pages and 281 groups involved in wildlife market business in the past two years alone. Statements of condemnation alongside content moderation alone won't do.

One way to beat illegal traders at this sinister game would involve the governments of the countries where these businesses thrive. According to these activists, if governments pass legislation that calls for stricter algorithmic practices and filtering processes, detection of wildlife trafficking and affiliated imagery and text could be made more transparent and more effective to track and alert about. Team work, if you prefer.

Social media companies that fail to account for these incidents would be penalized under this kind of legal approach. It's an uphill battle. It would involve introducing new legislation with the help of lawmakers, legal analysts, wildlife experts, and e-sleuths — and it might even corner the likes of Facebook into a tight spot for its own inadvertent involvement and sluggishness to fix the problem — but advocates sound ready, if not desperate, to get the ball rolling.