Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and China’s WeChat are the world’s largest wildlife markets. 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 market, 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.
A six-month investigation by ACCO member CINTOC identified multiple organized crime networks in Vietnam which each were moving more than one-ton of ivory every month using Facebook and WeChat to reach customers.