House Republicans Press Facebook on Human Trafficking Posts

Facebook allows posts 'about how to enter a country illegally'

Rep. Michael Cloud (R., Texas). (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
December 17, 2021

House Republicans are calling on Facebook to explain whether it alerts law enforcement when human traffickers advertise on the site.

In a Friday letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Rep. Michael Cloud (R., Texas) and seven other members of the GOP’s Big Tech task force asked whether Facebook communicates with Customs and Border Protection about criminal posts. The letter cites reports of Mexican smugglers using Facebook to promote their services to Central American migrants seeking to enter the United States. Mexican cartels have cashed in on the human smuggling business, according to Border Patrol agents. Cloud’s letter asks Facebook to explain how many accounts it has blocked this year "to prevent the facilitation of human smuggling."

Facebook officials have been vague about whether the company reports illegal immigration content to authorities. In a July letter responding to questions from Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich, Facebook executive William Castleberry said the company allows content "about how to enter a country illegally or request information about how to be smuggled." But the letter also says that "where appropriate" Facebook reports criminal activity to law enforcement.

Facebook claims it consulted with "human rights experts" to craft its policy allowing posts advertising illegal border crossings. Castleberry said Facebook "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." The GOP letter asks Facebook to explain the distinction, and to name the "human rights experts" it consulted.

The letter comes amid a massive spike in illegal border crossings. In October, Customs and Border Protection reported 164,000 apprehensions at the southern border, a 22-year high. Republicans want Facebook to help stanch that flow.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, Wash.), who chairs the Big Tech task force, said tech companies are "focused on silencing speech that doesn’t fit the liberal orthodoxy" rather than improving their work with law enforcement. Cloud echoed that statement, saying cartels have "free rein" to advertise on Facebook while dissenting viewpoints are barred.

In October, Brnovich asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Facebook’s handling of cartel and trafficker content. "Facebook identifies no mechanism to distinguish between authorized and unauthorized posts, nor is it clear how it differentiates between the two," said Brnovich, who is running for Senate in Arizona. "Ultimately, Facebook’s enforcement mechanism is a paper tiger."

Employees at Facebook and other tech companies frequently oppose cooperating with the federal government. In 2018, Google employees successfully blocked the company from working with the Department of Defense on drone technology. Amazon workers pressured the company to stop working with law enforcement agencies.

Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.