New Facebook alert informs users about wildlife trafficking

A barbary macaque sits in a tree looking up

Since 2016, Facebook and WWF have been working together to address wildlife trafficking by detecting and removing illicit activity that fuels the trade in wildlife and its products on one of the largest social media platforms in the world. As part of this effort, Facebook has launched a new pop-up interstitial alert message that informs users about illegal wildlife trade when certain wildlife-related search words are entered. For example, if a user were to search for a protected species combined with a commercial activity such as “tiger + buy,” an alert would pop up to declare that animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts is not allowed on Facebook.

A picture of a Facebook pop up that allows users to help report endangered animals on Facebook through the in-app reporting feature

The new pop up will launch in English and expand to include additional search terms and languages in the future.

“This new alert will inform millions of users around the world about how to help prevent unwitting facilitation of illegal trade and how to serve as a deterrent to wildlife traffickers,” says Giavanna Grein, Senior Program Officer, TRAFFIC at WWF-US. In addition, these updates complement existing interstitials on Instagram that direct searches for violating hashtags to user education on endangered wildlife and blocks users from finding content with those hashtags. The platform also allows users to report suspicious content (the “animal abuse” button) directly through the platform for review.

Facebook banned the trade of all live animals, aside from those sold through a verified business, in 2019. These policies are designed to keep both animals and people safe. Prior to this, the company worked with WWF to develop detailed training materials for enforcement staff, take action on prohibited content identified through online monitoring, and educate users about the issue of illegal trade through a different interstitial alert for Instagram in 2017.

A picture of a pop up that allows users to report endangered animals on Facebook

Users can help report the sale of endangered animals on Facebook through the in-app reporting feature.

The trade in endangered species is pervasive on social media platforms where sellers can display live animals and products for sale through pictures and videos. Closed groups process transactions and operate through private messaging, making buyers and sellers difficult to identify and the enforcement of prohibited content a challenge. Wanting to better understand the global landscape of wildlife trafficking and the role that social media platforms inadvertently play in facilitation, Facebook and Instagram joined as members of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online in 2018.

Through the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, 37 global online companies have removed or blocked over 3.3 million prohibited wildlife listings on their respective platforms. This effort has unified the tech sector and enabled immense learning and sharing of best practices for cracking down on illegal wildlife trade online. While this number is impressive, it only scratches the surface of the progress needed to keep wildlife offline and in the wild.

“Every day, the choices we make can have a profound impact on nature. And, this time of year is the perfect time to reflect on how our actions and particularly, our purchases, affect our planet. Be informed and help save nature by avoiding choices that harm wild animals,” says Crawford Allan, Senior Director, TRAFFIC at WWF-US. “Instead of opting for a live animal or wildlife product that could threaten a species in the wild, why not choose a sustainable wildlife plush toy or art depicting wildlife, that you can take home knowing it helps protect wildlife and the environment”.

The Internet, in particular social media platforms, will never be completely free of illegal wildlife products for sale given their fluidity and anonymous nature. However, by working closely with online companies like Facebook on such efforts, WWF and partners are helping to embed long-term solutions into processes and protocols across the tech industry that protect wildlife. Now, people on Facebook have the chance to play a role in reporting suspicious posts and to be a voice in the fight for wildlife conservation.