According to a new report, the social media giant Facebook isn’t exactly being cooperative when it comes to helping the Somali government hunt down the people who support the pirates that frequently raid its coast.
The United Nations Monitoring Group for Somalia issued its annual report to the United Nations Security Council on Friday, updating the body on how efforts to bring the shattered country back together proceed. As part of that mission, the monitoring group reports on the implementation of sanctions the international community has placed on Somalia to mitigate the impact that warlords and radical groups have on the security situation in country. Under that umbrella falls the matter of maritime piracy, a practice which saw a resurgence over the last decade. Oil tankers and civilian yachts alike proved easy targets for years, with their owners or home governments paying handsome ransoms for their safe return.
Piracy, however, “entails more than armed youngsters at sea in small boats attacking ships or providing armed protection aboard hijacked vessels,” as the report notes. Instead piracy has become a well-linked, fairly sophisticated network that draws from “facilitators internationally and inside Somalia from multiple layers of society.” Pirates and their backers, the monitoring group warns, can be “bankers, telecommunications agents, businessmen of various kinds, politicians, clan elders, translators or aid workers, all using their regular occupations or positions to facilitate one or another network.”
The report lists six profiles of individuals where this is the case in an annex, including at least one financier and several negotiators and facilitators. The documents linking these individuals, however, have been withheld from the public version of the document so as to prevent tainting possible prosecutions in the future.
So what does Facebook have to do with all of this? According to the Monitoring Group, these pirates and their supporters use social media to help coordinate their illicit activities, including the U.S.-based internet hegemon that Facebook has become. Facebook is being less than supportive, however, of efforts to use their systems to track these transnational crime networks. “Despite repeated official correspondence addressed to Facebook Inc., it has never responded to monitoring group requests to discuss information on Facebook accounts belonging to individuals involved in hijackings and hostage-taking,” the experts told the Security Council in their report. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ThinkProgress.
It is worth noting that Facebook has been much more gregarious in sharing information with the United States, where the company is housed. A series of leaks in the last several months revealed that the tech company participates in a National Security Agency program that allows government analysts to sift through foreign-owned data that’s passed through the company’s servers. The company has joined with others in the field to request that the government allow them to make public more information about the programs — while not calling for their halt.
Despite Facebook’s unwillingness to play nice with the United Nations, the fact remains that piracy is down overall in Indian Ocean. The report noted that “it appears that the heyday of Somali piracy may be over,” in fact, citing the fact that the number of attempted attacks has dropped dramatically since 2011, falling from 237 to 75 a nearly 70 percent drop. A number of factors can be said to attribute to this, including international navies cooperating to patrol the Somali coast, a strengthened security situation after African Union forces pushed radical group Al-Shabaab from power in many corners, and the burgeoning West Africa piracy boom possibly luring more would-be hijackers to the opposite coast.