Whistleblower accuses Facebook of connecting wildlife traffickers with buyers and sellers
Facebook connects you to your friends.
And according to a recently announced whistleblower complaint filed against Facebook with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it also connects poachers to black-market-buyers, cashing-in on wildlife trafficking.
The complaint alleges Facebook is one of the world’s largest sources for the trafficking of endangered wildlife.
"I’ve done whistleblowing for 33 years. Seen pretty much everything. And for criminal activity to be this open and for the United States government not to be cracking down on it aggressively, is absolutely shocking," said Stephen Kohn, pro-bono executive director of the National Whistleblower Center.
“You can go on Facebook today and you'll see every single endangered species for sale,” said Kohn. “Some live, some dead. It's pretty shocking. What we saw immediately was that Facebook was most likely the number one source of trafficking worldwide."
Elephant parts, tiger and lion teeth, claws and bones, rhino horn, bear claws, dead baby tigers and mountains of ivory are just some of the endangered species and their parts Kohn says are readily available on Facebook.
He showed us the evidence - documented in the SEC complaint.
His investigator found wildlife traffickers on Facebook and infiltrated their crime syndicate.
Within days, they met face-to-face and offered to purchase more than 4,000 pounds of ivory valued at nearly $1.5 million.
The complaint alleges that Facebook is aware of the illegal trafficking.
“There is no doubt,” said Kohn. “There’s no doubt they’ve known about it for a long time.”
The SEC complaint details global investigations from media organizations, conservation funds and foreign governments. It also notes that Facebook has been made aware of the crimes taking place on its site and its platforms, Instagram and What’s App.
Yet in recent Congressional hearings CEO Founder, Mark Zuckerberg, denied knowledge when questioned.
"Mr. Zuckerberg, did you know there are conservation groups that have provided evidence to the Securities and Exchange Commission that endangered wildlife goods - in particular, ivory - is extensively traded on closed groups on Facebook?" asked Georgia Republican Representative, Buddy Carter.
“Congressman, I was not specifically aware of that but I think that we know that there are issues with content like this that we need to do more pro-active monitoring,” said Zuckerberg.
Kohn says it's way beyond monitoring. Facebook is aiding and abetting the crimes.
“They are no longer a neutral party. They are no longer an innocent bystander. You can look at the page where the trafficker puts the item and right next to it, there are advertisements,” said Kohn. “They are profiting from that trafficking. Our belief is the moment they ran those ads on trafficker pages, they're actually outside the immunities.”
And unlike most of Kohn's cases, he's not being tight-lipped.
“Most of our cases are filed confidentially and anonymously because it's better for the target not to have any idea that a complaint was filed," said Kohn.
“So why talk to me?” I asked. ‘The reason is,” said Kohn, “extinctions are forever.”
Facebook did not respond to our request for an interview.