Social media can be a dark place for girls, as Plan International’s recent global survey on digital harassment revealed. But something many people don’t realize is that social media can also be a playground for traffickers to target girls. And to sell them.
Traffickers use social media to deceive victims and maintain control over them. These platforms have been a game-changer for traffickers — with this kind of technology at their fingertips, they can reach more people faster and often don’t even ever have to meet their victims in person.
With our lives moving even more online because of COVID-19, we have to be more vigilant than ever. We have to be on the lookout. Because traffickers already are.
January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Here are 3 facts you should know about how traffickers use social media so you can help protect yourself and others.
1. Traffickers don’t find their victims on social media by accident. They know what they’re doing. They target young people who they believe are vulnerable and could easily be groomed and victimized. How do they make that assessment? Traffickers look for posts that indicate low self-esteem, loneliness or unstable home situations. Then they make their move, empathizing and building trust. Look out for people on social media who seem to know a lot about you or know just the right things to say.
2. They’re professional frauds. These predators sometimes create fake social media accounts so they can portray themselves as friendly and trustworthy. Organized groups even set up fake accounts to pose as employment agencies so they can post bogus job opportunities. And traffickers are out there in the online dating world too — they pretend to be looking for a date in order to start a conversation with new potential victims. Be aware if someone’s profile looks suspicious or if what they’re offering seems too good to be true.
3. It’s all about control. Social media is a unique way that traffickers can control their victims. They might monitor or restrict their use of the platforms to disconnect them from their friends and family — anyone who they might ask for help — leaving them isolated. They sometimes impersonate their victims online, so they can start rumors or share intimate pictures to ruin their reputations. It’s all a means of control, because the more isolated someone is, the more vulnerable they are. Keep an eye out if someone seems to be behaving differently on social media.
When we know how traffickers tick, we’re better able to fight back. And there’s no time to waste — with the pandemic causing a global spike in trafficking and gender-based violence, we need to work together to protect girls now more than ever.