You would never imagine a service like Instagram being used for illicit wildlife trafficking, but this is not only a common practice but also a very lucrative one as well.
And the traffickers use some of the same tactics that the best social media marketers utilize to find their customers.
After a New York Times report revealed that animal rights abusers are using the Instagram social media platform to coordinate the illegal buying and selling of animals, the company took action and has developed a plan that brings awareness to animal rights abuse when a user searches for certain hashtags on the service.
The division of Facebook posted a blog about its actions in remedying this problem spot on its popular service and said that: “Starting today, when people search for a hashtag associated with harmful behavior to animals or the environment, they will see a content advisory screen. We are committed to fostering a safer, kinder world both on Instagram and beyond.”
The prompt will allow users to learn more about wildlife trafficking and will direct them to pages from the World Wildlife Fund, TRAFFIC, and World Animal Protection Agencies.
These concerns arose after a New York Times exposé focused on a detective who used Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp to find pictures of apes, gorillas, and orangutans and detain ape traffickers trying to sell them. The traffickers use ingenious viral methods to sell the animals, posing babies in baby clothing for example and responding to inquiries with “introductory prices” for animals that are endangered or on the brink of being so.
Apes are not the only animals trafficked over social media. In a mirror of the illicit ivory trade of long ago, social media platforms are also used to move rhino horn bone, pangolin scales, or tiger bone wine.
Daniel Stiles, the detective at the center of the New York Times piece, works to stop dealers trafficking in apes, an animal he calls one of the most intelligent on Earth.