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Facebook admits users can share information on illegal immigration and being smuggled

Facebook has admitted that it allows users to share information about how to enter countries illegally, along with how to be smuggled on its social media platforms.

In a letter responding to the Arizona Attorney General, the company said that while offers to provide or facilitate people smuggling are banned on the platform, Facebook does allow information to be shared freely between users about how to enter the US illegally, and request information about people smuggling.

The Facebook spokesman added that it allows such content in order to not interfere with people’s right to seek asylum, and that it is using automated filtering systems to catch paid advertisements for smuggling services.

In response, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has urged the Department of Justice and US Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the social media giant over its ‘facilitation’ of illegal migration into the United States.

Facebook has admitted that users can share information about how to enter countries illegally and about people smuggled on its social media platforms. Pictured: A giant digital sign is seen at Facebook’s corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California

Facebook's admission comes as Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (pictured last year in Pheonix, file photo) urged the Department of Justice to investigate the social media giant over its 'facilitation' of illegal migration into the United States

Facebook’s admission comes as Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (pictured last year in Pheonix, file photo) urged the Department of Justice to investigate the social media giant over its ‘facilitation’ of illegal migration into the United States

In late June, Brnovich sent a letter to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg voicing his concern over reports that people smugglers and drug cartels were using Facebook to ‘advertise their services to assist migrants on their dangerous journey and unlawful entry into the United States.’

In a response to the letter, more than a month later, Facebook vice president of state public policy William Castleberry admitted the platform allows for users to freely share some information regarding illegal entry and people smuggling.

While the platform does not allow ‘sharing content that offers to provide or facilitate human smuggling,’ Castleberry said, it does ‘allow people to share information about how to enter a country illegally or request information about how to be smuggled.’ 

Castleberry continued, saying that ‘after consulting with human rights experts, we developed this policy to ensure we were prohibiting content relating to the business of human smuggling but not interfering with people’s ability to exercise their right to seek asylum.’

‘Allowing people to seek and share information related to smuggling can also help minimize the likelihood of them being exploited by human traffickers,’ he added. 

In reaction to Facebook’s reply, Brnovich wrote to Garland with Facebook’s letter attached, calling on the DoJ to investigate the company over its ‘facilitation of human smuggling at it’s southern border and stop its active encouragement and facilitation of illegal entry.’  

‘Facebook’s policy of allowing posts promoting human smuggling and illegal entry into the United States to regularly reach its billions of users seriously undermines the rule of law,’ Brnovich wrote. 

‘The company is a direct facilitator, and thus exacerbates, the catastrophe occurring at Arizona’s southern border.’ 

Brnovich also drew attention to the fact that ‘Facebook’s letter does not address the heinous issue of sex trafficking, and actually seems to conflate it with illegal entry,’ which he says ‘are separate crimes that both take a devastating toll on the victims and our communities.’

In April, the Tech Transparency Project claimed it had first identified 50 pages and private groups on Facebook advertising human smuggling and provided their names to the company after it had asked for them

While some of the pages were deactivated, the group identified a further 40 Facebook pages and 17 Facebook groups that were still openly selling illegal border crossings.

In its letter to Brnovich, Facebook touted its ‘rigorous’ ad review process, which is done through automation but is supported by human reviewers to process re-review requests. The company added it was ‘continuously assessing ways to increase automation.’

Facebook also explained how it will work with law enforcement and report criminal activity to agencies ‘when we have a good faith belief that there is an imminent risk of harm.’ 

Facebook vice president of state public policy William Castleberry said while the platform does not allow 'sharing content that offers to provide or facilitate human smuggling,' it does 'allow people to share information about how to enter a country illegally or request information about how to be smuggled'. Pictured: Migrants cross a river from Mexico to the United States, September 22, 2021

Facebook vice president of state public policy William Castleberry said while the platform does not allow ‘sharing content that offers to provide or facilitate human smuggling,’ it does ‘allow people to share information about how to enter a country illegally or request information about how to be smuggled’. Pictured: Migrants cross a river from Mexico to the United States, September 22, 2021

In reaction to Facebook's reply, Brnovich wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland (pictured in Mexico on October 8) with Facebook's letter attached, calling on the DoJ to investigate the company over its 'facilitation of human smuggling

In reaction to Facebook’s reply, Brnovich wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland (pictured in Mexico on October 8) with Facebook’s letter attached, calling on the DoJ to investigate the company over its ‘facilitation of human smuggling

Facebook is planning to rebrand its parent company with a new name next week in a bid to distance itself from a series of embarrassing scandals. Pictured: A Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone (stock photo)

Facebook is planning to rebrand its parent company with a new name next week in a bid to distance itself from a series of embarrassing scandals. Pictured: A Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone (stock photo)

How Facebook is fending off multiple scandals 

As Facebook has grown, so to has the list of criticisms and controversies the company has faced.

Facebook’s huge scale and reach, as well as that of its Instagram and WhatsApp platforms, has led to issues being raised about internet privacy, excessive use of user data, user addiction, the spread of misinformation and its role in the workplace.

As early as 2006, the company faced criticism over privacy issues when it introduced its News Feed, and a year later it had to apologize for telling users what their friends had bought.

In 2011, the company settled with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it didn’t keep its privacy promise to users by allowing private information to be made public without giving them any warning.

Two years later, a bug in 2013 saw the email addresses and phone numbers of six million of the platform’s users be exposed to anyone who had some connection to the person.

The bug was exposed by a White Hat hacker – someone who finds weaknesses and bugs for companies to help them find weaknesses.

In 2014, Facebook undertook a mood-manipulation experiment that included more than half a million randomly selected users. 

The company altered the news feed to see how people reacted to more positive or negative posts, leading to an apology from one of its data scientists.

The company was criticised for a number of things in 2016, including for removing an iconic Vietnam war photograph, suspending a video of protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline, and other removals that led to users questioning Facebook’s policies over content.

It also faced heavy criticism over misinformation surrounding the 2016 US Presidential election and how the platform was being used in election campaigns – especially after it was revealed by Buzzfeed that fake news stories outperformed real news.

In what was arguabley Facebook’s biggest scandal, news of Cambridge Analytica broke in 2018, revealing that the UK-based data-analytics firm had improperly obtained data from tens of millions of users and used to target voters. Later that year, Zuckerberg testified before congress in April 2018.

The year also saw reports reveal that the social network was used to incite genocide against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Facebook was fined $5 billion by the FTC in 2019 over violations of privacy – a record breaking fine for a tech firm.

The company also announced its intention to released Libra – a cryptocurrency – and in October Zuckerberg again testified in congress.

Going into the 2020 election, Facebook was criticised over political ads on the platform. The company at the time said it does not fact check political ads, drawing criticism from politicians and employees. 

Recently, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen released a trove of documents dubbed the ‘Facebook Files’ to the Wall Street Journal

The internal research suggests that Facebook promoted divisiveness as a way to keep people on the site, with Haugen saying the documents showed the company had failed to protect young users.

But Brnovich told Garland in his letter that Facebook did not outline a method of distinguishing between authorized or unauthorized posts, and called its enforcement mechanism a ‘paper tiger’.

‘It is the federal government’s duty to enforce its immigration and criminal laws, and specifically, the Department of Justice’s responsibility to investigate and prosecute these matters,’ he wrote.

‘Therefore our office requests that your Department investigate Facebook’s facilitation of human smuggling at Arizona’s southern border and stop its active encouragement and facilitation of illegal entry.’ 

Speaking to FOX Business on Tuesday, Brnovich criticised the Biden administration and Garland for a perceived lack of action over the issue. 

‘Instead of trying to intimate parents at local school board meetings for exercising their First Amendment rights, where the heck is the Biden administration and Merrick Garland when it comes to actually enforcing laws where they have the primary jurisdiction? And that includes human smuggling,’ he said.

‘So shame on Facebook, shame on the Facebook Board of Directors, shame on corporate America that’s so interested in being woke and yet they’re basically destroying the fabric of this country and undermining the rule of law.’ 

Brnovich’s comments come as a report revealed that Facebook is planning to rebrand its parent company with a new name next week in a bid to distance itself from a series of embarrassing scandals. 

The firm’s original, flagship social media site and app – Facebook – is expected to keep its moniker, but Facebook Inc., the parent company which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, will be given rebrand.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg plans to reveal the parent company’s new name at its annual Connect conference on October 28, but it could be unveiled sooner, the Verge reported.

The name change would likely position Facebook’s social media app as one of many products under a parent company, which will oversee products like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus and more. 

It will also help distance the firm’s flagship social media brand from future bad publicity, with recent whistleblower testimony from former worker Frances Haugen adding to a list of damaging scandals to the reputations of Facebook and Instagram.

Just yesterday, US officials announced Facebook Inc had agreed to pay pay up to $14.25 million to settle civil claims by the government that the company discriminated against American workers and violated federal recruitment rules. 

And today in the UK, the company was fined £50.5 million ($70 million) after failing to provide enough important information to the competition regulator investigating the firm’s takeover of GIF sharing platform Giphy.

Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a probe into the acquisition in June last year, shortly after the deal was announced, over concerns about a ‘substantial lessening of competition’.

Facebook responded to the fine, saying: ‘We strongly disagree with the CMA’s unfair decision to punish Facebook for a best effort compliance approach, which the CMA itself ultimately approved. We will review the CMA’s decision and consider our options.’

Facebook said it does not comment on rumor or speculation over the touted name change, reminiscent of when Google abruptly renamed itself Alphabet in 2015, making Google a subsidiary and allowing it to become a technology conglomerate.  


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