The world’s biggest retail markets for illegal wildlife products and endangered animals can be found on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and China’s WeChat. Organized crime groups selling illegal wildlife – both parts and live animals – are taking advantage of the enormous number of social media users, and the anonymity the platforms provide, to reach an unprecedented number of customers. While it’s complex to determine the full scale of the online wildlife trade, because of the wide range of species being traded, social media use has grown rapidly across Asia in recent years. China’s WeChat, for example, has one billion users, including roughly 83% of China’s smartphone users. It’s prime competitor is Facebook, which has 400 million users across Asia, making it the firm’s largest market.
In Facebook groups, wildlife traffickers can hawk their wares to buyers across the globe. A team of whistleblowers hopes that an undercover sting—and a novel legal attack—can cut off the illicit trade where it lives online.