NWC is supporting a whistleblower in a SEC petition to hold social media companies accountable for allowing looters of antiquities to run smuggling operations from their websites. War-torn countries with rich cultural heritages, such as Syria, have seen an explosion of looting, oftentimes to finance terrorist activity by the Islamic State and others. As explained in a recent BBC report, looters and buyers connect on Facebook and coordinate their illegal transactions. NWC is providing support to the whistleblowers who brought evidence of Facebook’s role as facilitator, and deceptive statements downplaying this role, to the SEC. As written by the BBC,
Facebook is being used by networks of traffickers to buy and sell looted antiquities…. The BBC has also seen evidence that antiquities are still being smuggled from Iraq and Syria into Turkey, despite a police clampdown and the retreat of the Islamic State group.
In a statement, Facebook said coordinating illegal activity was not allowed on the site “and following the BBC’s investigation we have removed 49 groups”.
But Professor Amr al-Azm of Shawnee State University stated that these groups remain active on Facebook even after this alleged removal. He has spent two years researching hundreds of Facebook groups, many of which are private and often have thousands of members. Professor al-Azm is a co-author of the article entitled “How Facebook Made It Easier Than Ever to Traffic Middle Eastern Antiquities” in World Politics Review.
The full and updated report, titled “Facebook’s Black Market in Antiquities,” is online and fully accessible here. A CBS News video segment on the report is available here. The report notes how,
Facebook’s “Groups” feature, which allows users to create and control a contained network of individuals with “shared interests,” has become a facilitator for the expansion of antiquities trafficking networks. The Groups provide a seamless environment for digital interactions and cross-border networking between users interested in buying and selling antiquities, allowing them to communicate efficiently and discretely. The ATHAR Project’s report covers nearly two-years of investigative research and incorporates a case study on Groups based in Syria.
The report page also includes a document of items from the ICOM Red List for Middle East and North African countries that have been shared on Facebook.