Although not technically part of the Middle East, which ends in the west with Egypt, Libya has in the last few years been experiencing a great deal of the turmoil following the downfall of Moammar Gaddafi. In case you’re wondering why a blog focused on online marketing is talking about this, the reason is that Facebook in particular, and social media in general, are playing a fairly significant role in what’s happening.
News.com.au has an in depth report about how Libyan refugees, understandably seeking to flee the war torn region, are finding smugglers on Facebook and other social media sites. These smugglers are charging several thousand dollars – frequently amounting to people’s life savings – to arrange passage for them to Europe.
Unlike other altruistic underground railroad movements, the smugglers see these individuals as a disposable income source, and it is not uncommon for overloaded boats to sink. In fact, just recently, nearly a thousand refugees died while attempting to make the crossing to Italy when their boat capsized.
However, for many, giving up all of their worldly possessions and risking death is worth it because, as Time reports:
Every refugee is entitled to asylum in Europe under the Common European Asylum System, which sets out a framework for their protection and rehabilitation. However, several countries are unable to implement this framework effectively with the sudden and ever-increasing influx of illegal migrants.
Where does Facebook fit in this
One of the reasons that smugglers have been so successful is likely due to how easy it is for them to advertise their services. Facebook plays lip service to the idea that it’s doing what it can and working with governments to stop smugglers from using the social site to make money, but they are doing the bare minimum.
Mashable reporters were able to do a basic search in Arabic and found dozens of active Facebook pages run by smugglers. If a random reporter can find multiple examples in a few minutes, why can’t Facebook?
Sure, Facebook is shutting down sites once they are reported, but they clearly not being even remotely proactive about it. However, would it be better if they were?
It’s hard to choose the lesser evil
There is no question that the Libyan smugglers are Bad Guys. In addition to using funds from people buying their freedom to purchase weapons, including anti-aircraft guns, they are also doing nearly nothing to keep refugees safe.
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) April 22, 2015
However, it’s not particularly like there’s a wildly better option for them. Most of what Europe is trying to do right now is to simply stop the enormous influx of refugees. That’s it. Not by improving their living conditions, but to simply make it impossible for them to leave. I will admit, I have absolutely no idea how you could turn Libya into a peaceful country at this point, but I have a hard time getting behind the idea of locking its people in either.
If people are willing to leave everything they know, give up all of their possessions and go out into possible death rather than stay where they are, they’re probably willing to do just about anything to leave. In fact, from the Mashable article earlier.
“They will never stop,” Eduard, the migrant who successfully crossed the Mediterranean, said of the smuggling operations and sea crossings. “We will always come, because we believe there is something better for us here.”
Perhaps, crazily enough, the best way to handle this the approach Facebook has, which is to tacitly allow the smugglers to use the site. It’s a terrible, terrible solution, and I assume that Facebook is taking the lazy, rather than the moral route, but there don’t appear to be any better alternatives.