Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Artifact Looters on Facebook Helped Fund ISIS

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Facebook is accomplishing its mission of connecting the world, but under that noble goal lies some evil taking advantage of the platform, including ISIS using it to fund its worldwide terrorist network.

They do it by giving ancient artifact looters in Syria a forum to market, connect, review, and sell historical pieces throughout the world on Facebook, experts told The Atlantic.

“Facebook is how our community has stayed connected during the war, but at the same time, it’s also helped destroy it,” Adnan Al Mohamad, a onetime archaeologist at Aleppo’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums in the Department of Excavation, told The Atlantic. “For Syrians, this is real life, not an online life. Smuggling and trafficking these artifacts is a war crime, so why isn’t Facebook held to the standard of international law?”

Facebook has since moved to ban the sale of artifacts, including “archaeological discoveries and ancient manuscripts, tombstones, coins, funerary items, and mummified body parts,” according to public-policy manager Greg Mandel.

“We now prohibit the exchange, sale or purchase of all historical artifacts on Facebook and Instagram,” he wrote in an email to The Atlantic.

But that move is little more than lip-service to the problem, because Facebook’s wide net is difficult to monitor and violations are only discernible when they are reported by a user – something terrorists would not voluntarily do – per the report.

“Facebook is the largest social-media company in the world, and it needs to invest in teams of experts to identify and remove networks rather than playing whack-a-mole with individual posts and accounts,” Shawnee University professor Amr Al-Azm told The Atlantic. “Otherwise, nothing will change.”

The UN Security Council is wise to the terror-funding plot, issuing a report in January that cited Facebook “a tool for the illicit trafficking of cultural property” for the benefit of ISIS and outlined “difficulties combating online radicalization, recruitment, and fundraising via social media platforms, in particular Facebook,” per The Atlantic.


Al-Azm is among the whistleblowers on the scheme, dedicating himself to start Alliance to Counter Crime Online with a team of online-trafficking and policy experts and the ATHAR Project.

“By 2014, social media was being rapidly flooded with looted antiquities,” Al-Azm told The Atlantic. “The more we looked, the more we found. It was spreading like a virus.

“That’s when it hit me: Facebook is advertising the very same artifacts we’ve dedicated our lives trying to save.”

He worked with Katie Paul on the ATHAR Project’s 2019 report: “Facebook’s Black Market in Antiquities,” which concluded:

“Facebook has become a sprawling digital black market, facilitating illicit trade in antiquities from across the Middle East and North Africa. The ATHAR Project 2019 report takes an in-depth look antiquities trafficking on the world’s largest social media platform.”

“I saw people risking their lives to protect their heritage,” Paul told The Atlantic. “I joined what I thought were these Facebook heritage-monitoring groups, but they ended up being trafficking groups. I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of me: There seemed to be thousands more traffickers than activists.

“The research has taken over all of my nights and weekends,” she added. “Every data point I can find, I record; every post, every single comment, recordings, time stamps, I screenshot — yes, it’s data, but it’s also criminal evidence.”

Ultimately, Facebook cannot possibly work to monitor the expansive platform it provides, according to author of “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy” Siva Vaidhyanathan.

“The effort to police antiquities, hate speech, or harassment rests heavily on reporters and users to expose problems,” Vaidhyanathan, also the director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, told The Atlantic. “It has 2.7 billion users uploading ads and content in more than 100 languages every second of every day. Facebook could not possibly hire enough people who speak all those languages to keep the service crime-free. So policing Facebook will always be a frustrating, cosmetic, and unsuccessful endeavor.”


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