From the Streets to Social Media

Social media has the potential to make the world a smaller place, connecting people across countries and oceans. And while many of the benefits of sites such as Facebook are easy to acknowledge, the detriments to having a large presence on multiple social media sites seem to be ignored or swept under a virtual table.

We are all familiar with the term catfishing. And while the concept of luring someone into a relationship using a false identity might have been turned into a reality show — an offensive attempt to seemingly downgrade the emotional trauma that can be inflicted on individuals caused by loving someone that is not actually real — what is even more daunting and disturbing is the fact that human traffickers have complete access to these platforms.

This creates a much more complicated task for law enforcement. To trace a criminal online through hundreds of millions of social media accounts seems an impossible endeavor — especially with apps like Snapchat, where messages disappear within seconds. Social media and other online technology have not only taken the recruitment and selling process off the streets but also allow traffickers to control victims using remote surveillance.

In the Netflix series, Black Mirror, most of the episodes forces the audience to contemplate our relationship with technology and social media. In a specific episode called Shut Up and Dance, a boy’s webcam is hacked and he is tormented by an anonymous entity, which threatens to leak personal information if the boy does not comply with certain requests. Privacy is becoming more fragile in a world where our lives are shared online, our photos, our children’s photos, our messages and our locations.

Two worlds are living simultaneously: the physical space we each inhabit and the virtual space of the internet. And in cyberspace, children can be lured by promises of jobs, false promises, and insidious criminals. Children’s photos are circulated on Facebook — customers “book” them for between $40 and $60. According to Kendis Paris, the head of the “U.S.-based Truckers Against Trafficking…children were easy to manipulate, ‘especially young girls, unfortunately, looking for love.”’

Social media training does exist for law enforcement. However, the constantly evolving medium is painfully frustrating to get a consistent grasp on.

Social media is attempting to prevent these heinous crimes from happening. For example:

A link to multiple films dealing with the extremely relevant issue of human trafficking: