A key focus of NWC’s social media accountability campaign is curtailing illegal wildlife trafficking on Facebook and other social media websites, with four whistleblower petitions filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These petitions provided extensive evidence regarding how the companies owning these sites have misled shareholders and the public about the extent of wildlife crime they have been facilitating. Illegal wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar annual industry that threatens both human security and biodiversity.
The wildlife trafficking petitions were the subject of an April 2018 Associated Press story entitled “Body Parts from Threatened Wildlife Widely Sold on Facebook“ and a June 2018 feature article in WIRED entitled “How Facebook Groups Became a Bizarre Bazaar For Elephant Tusks.” These articles detail how NWC has become the leader in developing and implementing a cutting-edge strategy for conserving wildlife that focuses on whistleblower enforcement of disclosure laws under the Securities and Exchange Act.
NWC’s social media campaign is also highlighting how Facebook profits from illegal activity. As stated by NWC then-Executive Director (now Board Chairman) Stephen M. Kohn, in the AP article:
“Facebook is not an innocent bystander to these crimes. Facebook sold advertisements on the very pages the illegal ivory was being marketed.”
In May 2018, the U.S. Congress made its voice heard as well. A letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from the House Natural Resources Committee by Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, then-Ranking Member and now Chair, and Rep. Jared Huffman, then-Vice-Ranking Member, focused on the anonymous wildlife whistleblower petitions in demanding an investigation into the illegal wildlife trafficking on Facebook. The letter noted that:
“Facebook’s lack of disclosure of the illegal activity facilitated by its site and its failure to take adequate steps to address that activity are both violations of SEC rules.”
Stephen Kohn, our board chair and the attorney for the anonymous whistleblower(s) who filed the complaint against Facebook, said
“Facebook must be held accountable under U.S. Securities laws. Publicly- traded companies cannot profit from illegal activities, and it is intolerable that a corporation with the wealth and international reach of Facebook can play a major role in the ongoing extinction crisis, which has already claimed the last male Northern White Rhino, by selling products from animals on the critically endangered species list.”
Another key focus of NWC has been ensuring that Facebook cooperates with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and other law enforcement authorities in curtailing wildlife trafficking on its website. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivered October 9, 2018, the NWC requested that Facebook immediately start cooperating with the DOJ’s efforts to investigate and halt wildlife trafficking. The NWC learned the DOJ had subpoenaed information about illegal wildlife trafficking occurring on Facebook and that the social media giant provided data in a raw format that is very difficult and costly to analyze. NWC is committed to ensuring that Facebook stops the stonewalling and provides meaningful cooperation to crucial DOJ investigations into wildlife trafficking on its website.
The NWC, through its Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program, will continue working to eliminate wildlife trafficking on online platforms.
Facebook In The News
How Facebook Groups Became A Bizarre Bazaar For Elephant Tusks – Read this Wired post on the illegal activity. Facebook is a publicly traded company and could pose major fines by the SEC. The SEC could impose financial penalties that would pressure the company to close these wildlife marketplaces and also potentially land major monetary awards for whistle-blowers in countries where wildlife trafficking is most widespread.
Facebook Wildlife Trafficking Report Spread Around World – News outlets around the United States have picked up and expanded upon an Associated Press story about the whistleblower complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) lodged against Facebook. The story has been published in news sources in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
Facebook Whistleblower Alleges Company Chooses to Profit from The Trafficking of Endangered Species – The whistleblower law firm of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto announced that it filed the anonymous whistleblower complaint against Facebook with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Office of the Whistleblower alleging that Facebook is knowingly profiting from the trafficking of endangered species.
Congress Questions Facebook CEO on Wildlife Crime – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg received tough questions from members of Congress about wildlife trafficking and the illegal ivory trade on his two-billion user social media site.
Facebook Is Linked to Illegal Ivory Trade, SEC Complaint Claims – Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) originally last August, but it became public on April 9.
Everybody Is Talking About It: Facebook’s Wildlife Black Market – National Whistleblower Center featured in ABC News, New York Post & more.
Letters to Congress
Congressmen urge SEC to investigate Facebook for facilitating wildlife trafficking – Reps. Raul Grijalva and Jared Huffman letter to SEC suggest that Facebook is breaking laws that require public companies to protect shareholders and prevent illegal activity.
ABC News Washington Story Highlights Congressional Inquiry into Illegal Wildlife Trafficking on Facebook – Representatives Raul Grijalva (AZ) and Jared Huffman (CA) filed a letter to the SEC saying that Facebook was breaking laws that require public companies to protect shareholders and prevent illegal activity. The letter demanded an investigation into the illegal wildlife trafficking on Facebook.
Facebook Uncooperative in DOJ Wildlife Trafficking Investigations – In a letter delivered to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, October 9, 2018, the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) requested that Facebook immediately start cooperating with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) efforts to investigate and halt wildlife trafficking.