RENCTAS dossier served as a basis for IBAMA to frame the online platform for environmental crime
On July 1st, IBAMA issued a fine of BRL 10,120,000.00 (around U$2 million) against Facebook for “Exposing 2,227 specimens of native wildlife for sale without proper permission, license or authorization from the competent environmental authority”. The fine was issued based on a dossier sent to IBAMA by RENCTAS – Brazilian Network for Combating Wild Animals Trafficking. This is probably the largest environmental fine for trafficking in wild animals ever imposed in Brazil and also the first time that Facebook has been held responsible for an environmental crime in the world.
The dossier prepared by RENCTAS was produced, in part, from a scientific study carried out by the institution in partnership with the University of Northumbria, in the United Kingdom. This study analyzed a random selection of 500 messages captured in Facebook and WhatsApp groups – from a total of more than four million messages cataloged by Renctas during a year – to identify patterns and trends in the illegal online wildlife market in Brazil. In this small sample alone, 1,682 wild animals were recorded being traded, totaling more than R$ 700,000 in moved resources. The average was 3.3 animals offered in each of the messages. If this standard is applied to the four million messages in the Renctas archive, there will be about 12 million animals being trafficked.
Average of 15 thousand monitored daily messages
Currently, RENCTAS monitors around 800 wildlife trafficking groups on Facebook and WhatsApp, which generate around 15,000 message exchanges daily. Most illegally traded animals are reptiles (44%) and then birds (40%). “Almost every day, new groups specialized in the illegal online trade of wild animals appear and the amount and diversity of trafficked species is impressive, even for those who are already used to dealing with this topic”, says Dener Giovanini, general coordinator of RENCTAS. Another fact that draws attention is the fact that 19% of the trafficked species are exotic, that is, species that do not occur naturally in Brazil.
Showcase for animal trafficking
The first complaint about the trafficking of wild animals online was sent by RENCTAS to the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) in 1999. At the time, RENCTAS had identified around 6 thousand advertisements of illegal trade in Brazilian fauna on sites such as Orkut and Free market. With the growth of social networks, animal trafficking has also gained momentum, as relationship platforms have become great virtual showcases, where traffickers of Brazilian fauna find potential customers and still protect themselves, due to the anonymity that the internet offers.
Reporting posts on Facebook has no effect
Both Facebook and WhatsApp are companies of Meta Platforms, Inc., which is owned by entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg. RENCTAS sought out Facebook and held some meetings with the platform’s security team, in order to alert them to the fact that they were favoring the trafficking of wild animals in Brazil. The company claimed to have technological mechanisms to exclude posts related to the illegal animal trade, however, in practice these resources do not seem to prevent the growth of this criminal activity on the platform. “We don’t feel, on the part of the Facebook security team, a real willingness to solve the problem. They could easily stop animal trafficking with the resources they have, if they don’t it’s because they really don’t care”, says Giovanini. RENCTAS, on several occasions, denounced posts involving the illegal trade of Brazilian fauna on the platform and, in most cases, the posts remained online and RENCTAS received as a response that the “post does not violate our Community Standards”. In its Community Standards policy, Facebook states that posts about animal abuse will not be allowed, with the exception of those related to hunting.
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1 – Prints from Facebook and WhatsApp:
2 – Facebook response pattern after the publication is reported: