Seeking a Heat-Seeker? The On-Line Arms Bazaars on Facebook Have Been There to Help.

C.J. Chivers
Apr 7, 2016 · 2 min read

For the past several years, in often ungoverned lands beset by terrorism, militias, instability and crime, Facebook has been hosting vibrant on-line arms bazaars, where users can advertise and arrange to buy all manner of military weapons, from handguns to guided missiles (and most everything between).

With support from Nicolas Florquin and the Small Arms Survey, Nic R. Jenzen-Jones and the private consultancy he leads, Armament Research Services, published a report on the widespread use of the bazaars in Libya for arranging transfers of a range of powerful weapons, including heavy machine guns, anti-tank guided missiles, and first-generation shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles. The report was the result of site-monitoring by ARES since late 2014.

Further reporting and monitoring by The New York Times offered insights into similar Facebook bazaars active in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. All of these bazaars violate Facebook’s new(ish) policies re using the site to facilitate private weapons sales.

After the Times shared details of several groups with Facebook, it swiftly shut down six of them, and said it encouraged its 1.6 billion monthly visitors to report more. (There are many more.)

Details at the link, but first thanks to Ian Fisher, Shreeya Sinha, Karam Shoumali and Shuaib Almosawa for work on a complicated project, which required intensive gathering, archiving and analysis of on-line evidence to stand the story up and present it in a still-experimental web and print format.

Image from one of the Libyan arms-sales groups on Facebook, which is now closed.

C.J. Chivers
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