Facebook has acknowledged it allows people to share information on how to immigrate illegally or be smuggled into the U.S., saying it crafted the policy to give them a shot at asylum and prevent them from relying on human traffickers.
The company made the admission in a private letter to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Mr. Brnovich was stunned by the revelation and wrote a letter late last week to the Justice Department. He asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to open an investigation into the social media giant and find a way to “stop its active encouragement and facilitation of illegal entry.”
“Facebook’s policy of allowing posts promoting human smuggling and illegal entry into the United States to regularly reach its billions of users seriously undermines the rule of law,” Mr. Brnovich wrote. “The company is a direct facilitator, and thus exacerbates, the catastrophe occurring at Arizona’s southern border.”
He sent a letter this summer raising concerns with Facebook about its use by smugglers during the Biden border surge.
In a lengthy reply, the technology company said it does try to remove drug trafficking content or posts “promoting human smuggling services,” but added that people are free to post information about sneaking across borders illegally.
“We do allow people to share information about how to enter a country illegally or request information about how to be smuggled,” wrote William Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president for state public policy.
He said Facebook spoke with “human rights experts” and figured that some illegal immigrants will try to claim asylum, which is a right under international law. Mr. Castleberry also said the company hopes that sharing information will help some migrants sneak into the country themselves rather than turning to “human traffickers.”
Mr. Brnovich, in his letter to the Justice Department, said Facebook appeared to be equating human smuggling and human trafficking, though they are different crimes. One involves transporting people in defiance of the law, usually at their behest, while the other is coerced and usually ends with forced labor or sexual exploitation.
Facebook’s defense of asylum is also striking.
In other contexts, the company does not appear to make exceptions to illegal activity postings, such as plans for 3D-printing firearms, even though the plans could help victims of domestic abuse or stalking.
The Washington Times reached out to Facebook for clarification on its policies but did not receive a response.
Mr. Brnovich became interested in Facebook after his office tried to post information about fighting human trafficking. He said Facebook blocked the posts.
He said it was “perplexing” that Facebook made it easier to post a how-to for illegal immigration than for a state law enforcement department to post resources to combat exploitative criminal behavior.
Facebook said it tries to limit searches for human smuggling and blocks ads for smuggling services.
“If human smuggling posts are identified, it is our policy to remove the content and disable the account of the user who posted it,” Mr. Castleberry wrote. “Our policy of disabling user accounts after only one violation of our human smuggling content policy is among our strictest penalties.”
He said users can report content they believe to cross lines and staff members review the content to decide what to leave and what to block. The goal, he said, is to catch offending posts through automated screening before users flag them.
That includes screening for information “relating to human smuggling and illegal drugs.”
“While our enforcement efforts are not perfect — and there is always more work to be done — we have taken strong steps to identify and remove content promoting human smuggling and drug trafficking,” the company executive wrote.
Mr. Brnovich said in his letter to the Justice Department that those assurances fell short. He called Facebook’s policy “a paper tiger.”
Although it is the purview of the federal government to enforce immigration laws, he said, Arizona can go after human traffickers. He said his office is pursuing cases in which sex traffickers advertised on Facebook.
Mr. Brnovich posted the Facebook letter on the attorney general’s website.
The Facebook vice president said in his letter that he was revealing confidential business information. He asked Mr. Brnovich’s office to limit distribution and alert Facebook if anyone requested it.
Facebook’s revelations are likely to add to the company’s public travails. Liberals accuse the company of fueling right-wing conspiracy theories, and conservatives are angry about the platform’s censorship decisions.
Whether the Justice Department moves against the company remains to be seen. The department didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article.
Social media has reshaped migrant smuggling techniques. Migrants respond to Facebook ads in Central America, the smuggling organizations recruit U.S.-based drivers on Snapchat, and drivers and migrants connect via GPS pin locations sent through WhatsApp.
Telegram, TikTok and Instagram have also been used, according to a database of smuggling court cases maintained by The Washington Times.
WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, is the most frequent app mentioned by smugglers, The Times’ database shows.
Cartel scouts use WhatsApp to guide drivers to pickups, send updates about Border Patrol movements and advise which routes are likely to be successful. The Times has come across cases in which smugglers use WhatsApp to extort extra payments from families before releasing migrants.
Social media posts also help create waves of illegal immigration. Migrants who make it to the U.S. and get caught and released often post online about their success, encouraging friends and family to do the same.
“I’ve never met an immigrant who didn’t have a modern cellphone, a smartphone, that was fully plugged into the social media world, and that gave that live-time intelligence information about where to go, when to go and how people upstream were doing,” Todd Bensman, a national security fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Times in an expose this year.