I was speaking at a conference on how to end human trafficking. Every single speaker there — from FBI agents, to Pentagon military people, to professors studying the issue and survivors running shelters for former slaves — pointed out that until Facebook and Google are willing to do far more to stop the slave traders nothing can be done on a big scale to end the traffic in human beings.
The fight to end human trafficking should unite all sides in our culture wars. Why hasn’t it? Sure, Google says it is now belatedly on board. The search giant announced on April 9 that it will award a $3 million grant, part of its Global Impact Award program run through its Google Giving philanthropic arm, to a trio of anti-trafficking organizations. But Google hasn’t actually done anything to change the fact that using their search machine can — with a click or two — get you to the child porn sites traffickers use to make a billion bucks.
“Nine months ago, starting with the Google Ideas Summit, we set out to map, expose, and disrupt the workings of illicit networks,” says Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas. “This includes organized crime, narco-trafficking, organ harvesting. Every single one of these networks involved human trafficking.”
Wonderful, but not nearly enough. Why have we bought into Google, Facebook and other internet giants’ PR and lobbying efforts to convince us that they’ll save our world– as long as we treat them like rock stars and don’t restrict anything they want to do, including their foot dragging on rooting out human traffickers? You see giving to anti-trafficking groups is meaningless, unless Google actually censors users of their system.
One other thing: if Google and others are really interested in helping the global anti-trafficking community they should do the opposite of what they are doing right now ($3 million divided up between Polaris and IJM – two empire-building anti-trafficking NGOs) and work at the grassroots level with communities all over the country and world. And Google spends 100 million per year on lobbying Congress to avoid being made accountable.
As Tom Green wrote in a prescient article the Huffington Post: “Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates have become the rock stars of our generation, The Beatles of our time. So nobody in the right mind would want to forcefully suggest that technology could have ruined the world.” And suddenly a lot of people are seeing the tech companies for what they are. These aren’t saviors but just business as usual predators. As an article in Alternet notes, “[ Apple CEO] Tim Cook is defending tax-dodging practices that screw American taxpayers out of billions and leave us with no money to pay for decent schools that, you know, educate Apple’s workers or roads that, ahem, allow the company to ship its products around the country.”
And why hasn’t the left come down like a ton of bricks on today’s internet rock star/traffickers? It seems to me that it’s because human trafficking is often linked to the sex trade and the left is leery of anything that might look anti-sex. After all, isn’t all sex good?
As the Huffington Post noted: “So far this year, 27 of the 129 children reported missing to Indonesia’s National Commission for Child Protection are believed to have been abducted after meeting their captors on Facebook.” And that’s just one small sliver of the global Facebook/trafficking connection. Here’s another:
“Recently Craigslist came under national scrutiny for its Adult services section after several high profile cases involving the prostitution of minors… Including child sex.
“October  , FoxNews.com reported, “Facebook is failing to prevent child predators from posting suggestive and potentially illegal photographs of children on its website.” What may have seemed like a somewhat arbitrary and slightly inflammatory accusation has now proved true.
“Tulsa’s Chapter Director for Stop Child Trafficking Now, Jason Weis, says graphic pictures are all over the social networking site. A quick search reveals a tiny girl tied up, one partially naked not more than 8 years old, and another little girl posing without her pants.
“Then he clicks on the users friends and finds a whole network of potential child predators. “It’s obvious, what he’s into,” Weis points out a cartoon that’s posted on the users Facebook page and the caption in child’s bubble. ‘”Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone, Daddy. I promise. It’s our secret. What do you think that means?”
“He says pedophiles are everywhere, lurking and talking in code. “Look here, ‘13,14,15,16,17’, a taste for women. That’s his ages,” says Weis. “What I am surprised is that it is here and it is blatant, graphic, full color photos to see with no age restrictions.” In his brief investigation Weis says he found hundreds of disturbing pictures of children and potential predators on Facebook. He says, “Pedophiles have made child pornography, rape, bestiality, incest, mainstream on Facebook.'”
So why aren’t the billionaires who run Google and Facebook doing more? They let us “report” abuse, but have not protected the human race from predators by setting up systems that exclude even a hint of child abuse, trafficking and selling humans. They don’t even take a lead on protecting women from abuse. They wait for others to speak up first.
It took activists weeks of hounding Facebook to get them to take down sites openly calling for raping women Marines! As the New York Times noted:
“It started when I read an article about Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, writing a letter to the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, after discovering Facebook pages devoted to promoting sexual violence against female Marines.
“Ms. Speier named the Facebook sites in question and provided some of the vile images from them in her letter. The images included a female Marine with a black eye that read, “She Burned the Bacon…Only Once.” A naked woman tied up and gagged with a caption that read, “She Left the Kitchen Only Once.” And a female Marine placing a male Marine in a headlock that read, “This is My Rape Face.” I went straight to the sites in question, and what I found was shocking. On this virtual and violent platform, with 20,000 “likes,” Marines and former Marines referred to female Marines as “wooks” and “WMs” (Walking Mattresses), took offensive photos of them without their permission and threatened to gang rape or beat them if they reported the site.”
Why can Facebook and Google get away with whining about free speech when what they are really doing is just defending corporate profits? Therein lies a far bigger story. But first note that Google and Facebook have the ability to root out far more pro-violence and pro–misogyny material than they do. For instance as the Huffington Post noted:
“There are changes Google recently made to its terms of service…. it now has made changes [to reflect] Google’s ban on “Glassware content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts or sexually explicit material. “Google’s change in policy underscores its efforts to fiercely control Glass’ reputation before its public release. Glass’ unobtrusive recording capabilities have sparked many privacy concerns. At least one strip club has already banned Glass, and Preeti Upadhyaya of the Silicon Valley Business Journal has raised concerns about sexual consent in the Glass-wearing world.”
The fact is that what we regard as cool or uncool is the most powerful motivator to bring social change. For instance smoking was cool. Now it’s not. Gay-bashing was “okay.” Now its not. Oil companies were once the “engine of progress.” Now they’re uncool, even hated.
Change fashion and you can change the world.
It is time to make human trafficking and everything that makes it possible uncool. And we need to do that so that Google and Facebook and everyone else powerful and filthy rich that are controlling the internet take notice. Having a hand in human slavery should be about as acceptable as kicking puppies to death in public.
Like the Roman Catholic bishops Facebook and Google are busy covering their own butts, rather than aggressively rooting out every hint of exploitation from their pages. Like the bishops they want to handle all this themselves internally, not be subject to the law.
Both the Right and Left, the Secularists and the Religious have to rethink some very basic assumptions.
Are the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs selfish, stupid or just too young and uneducated about history, culture, human rights and politics to care about the real world and people put at risk in it because of them? So asks The New Yorker in, “CHANGE THE WORLD: Silicon Valley transfers its slogans—and its money—to the realm of politics” by George Packer, (May 27, 2013).
“The industry’s splendid isolation inspires cognitive dissonance, for it’s an article of faith in Silicon Valley that the technology industry represents something more utopian, and democratic, than mere special-interest groups. The information revolution (the phrase itself conveys a sense of business exceptionalism) emerged from the Bay Area counterculture of the sixties and seventies, influenced by the hobbyists who formed the Homebrew Computer Club and by idealistic engineers like Douglas Engelbart, who helped develop the concept of hypertext and argued that digital networks could boost our “collective I.Q.” From the days of Apple’s inception, the personal computer was seen as a tool for personal liberation; with the arrival of social media on the Internet, digital technology announced itself as a force for global betterment. The phrase “change the world” is tossed around Silicon Valley conversations and business plans as freely as talk of “early-stage investing” and “beta tests.”
“When financiers say that they’re doing God’s work by providing cheap credit, and oilmen claim to be patriots who are making the country energy-independent, no one takes them too seriously—it’s a given that their motivation is profit. But when technology entrepreneurs describe their lofty goals there’s no smirk or wink. “Many see their social responsibility fulfilled by their businesses, not by social or political action,” one young entrepreneur said of his colleagues. “It’s remarkably convenient that they can achieve their goals just by doing their start-up.” He added, “They actually think that Facebook is going to be the panacea for many of the world’s problems. It isn’t cynicism—it’s arrogance and ignorance.”
What has made fighting the slave trade uncool for the Left?
Could it be that the fight to end the trafficking of boys, girls and adults for everything from forced labor to the sex trade enslavement and child rape suffers from association with the right wing evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics who have made the struggle to end the “modern” slave trade one of their issues?
Let’s face it the left seems to believe in the internet, in sexual freedom and the virtues of porn more than the right does. The left also has been the promoter of free speech — without limits — as a self evident good.
Should “free speech” include pictures of three year old children offered for sale on Facebook? Facebook “profiles” are established every day which are merely links to outside websites featuring women and men for sale with direct links to their homepages.
As reported in Technology & Human Trafficking (a Project of the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy)
“A federal agent described the state of technology-facilitated [Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking] DMST:
“‘Last week we had a case where a juvenile was lured into prostitution by a Facebook account. [Facebook] has definitely played a role in the work we do. These girls use [cell] phones, the Internet … Now everything, all the ads are being posted through the Internet. Child prostitution and prostitution is occurring from a computer to a hotel room.’
“This agent’s observation suggests an important technological shift in the dynamics of DMST. Law enforcement perspectives suggest the emergence of a multi-platform digital ecosystemthat defines underage sex trafficking and online and networked sociality more generally. Just as individuals are leading ever more “mobile and networked” lives and using social media and mobile phones in novel ways, trafficked minors and traffickers are too, but with varying degrees of technological fluency.
“Law enforcement interviews further showcase the ways in which the Internet, social media, and mobile phones are changing the dynamics of street-based prostitution. Despite the fact that traffickers may use social media such as Twitter, MocoSpace, YouTube, and Facebook to recruit and advertise minors, law enforcement also notes that traffickers diverge in their technological sophistication.”
So as long as the fight to protect children (and trafficked adults) from predators – say who use the internet – is tangled with free speech issues and knee-jerk lefty approval of all sexual liberation it’s tough to get the cool people – media leaders, tech companies etc. – involved. Worse, the fight against the slave trade has been taken up by the evangelicals, the same people who oppose gay marriage, porn and abortion rights for women.
Yet the trafficking of human beings and most notably children, is a global issue and involves the complicity of giant corporations. Facebook knows this and says it is doing something about it. It’s offering after the fact band aid “solutions.” What it is not doing is questioning it’s very means of open-ended operation and changing it.
Google has been aware of its complicity and has thrown a few million dollars of funding to anti-trafficking NGOs in order to “do something.” What it hasn’t done is to devise priority ways to rid the internet of all sexualised pictures of children, and rewrite its search methods to rid the internet of easy access to child porn, and trafficked humans. To do that Google would have to change its fundamentalist-style rigid all-open-access-to-all-information-is-good, ideology.
Of course these companies deny their responsibility and point to their donations to a few anti-trafficking NGOs and to their “in-house” responses as proof they are doing something. They tell us to just trust them and that its up to us to report problems. After all aren’t they the best and brightest? So why should they be accountable?
But throwing a few million dollars of blood money at the problem won’t make it go away. And why should we trust their internal (often secretive) self-policing when we don’t trust the Roman Catholic bishops to police themselves?
What the Left needs to do.
This is a human rights fight. It’s not about sex. This isn’t about left or right, liberal versus conservative but about freedom. This isn’t about actual free speech either. It is about trillion-dollar interests too lazy to move this issue to priority one.
Everyone needs to get involved to change the internet giants minds. That includes the LGTB community, liberal and feminist activists, evangelicals, and everyone else. We need to unite — for once — to make it clear that fighting to stop slavery, child rape and sex trafficking is not about fighting human sexuality. It is the opposite. We are freeing people to make their own choices.
To fight sexual predators is to celebrate human sexuality. To enlist the internet giants – who actually believe that their companies will change the human race for the better – we need to let them know that what they will really be remembered for is their greed and arrogance, not to mention their role in the exploding slave trade and child rape business.