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As if the problem of human trafficking and people smuggling was already not bad enough, authorities must now also grapple with how its perpetrators leverage social media platforms to hoodwink them and expand their outreach.

News reports in the local press have outlined how much more difficult this issue has become because traffickers are now able to use platforms like TikTok and YouTube to reach more people than they would otherwise. And, to make matters worse, they operate these accounts from outside Pakistan, making it impossible to crack down on them here.

Apparently, it’s as simple as getting one of those few desperate people who are able to survive the journey to some European country to upload a video detailing how nice the “game” is, and soon enough their accounts are flooded with inquiries from similar people eager for greener pastures; by hook or by crook.

From there, these people communicate discreetly and their exchanges become impossible to trace. Unless, that is, some tragedy overtakes them while crossing some seas or borders and they – at least their remains – end up in the headlines.

There’s more. The abuse of social media by traffickers is not limited to luring disgruntled youth away from their country by illegal means.

There are also reports that this facility is used to impersonate victims, spread damaging rumours, distribute intimate images, or stalk a victim’s activity even after they have left the traffickers.

These issues present fresh challenges to authorities who are already behind the curve even when it comes to meeting the old-fashioned form of this menace.

So far, it’s not done much good to approach administrators of these platforms. Sure, their guidelines confirm that they do not allow things like “violent threats, incitement to violence, or promotion of criminal activities that might harm people, animals, or property”.

But when it comes to taking action they cite problems like “complexity of monitoring the platform, given the overwhelming amount of content posted”. And that is where the system seems to hit a brick wall.

At the heart of the problem is the desperation of so many Pakistanis to leave their country for even the faint hope of a better life. That is why even hundreds of deaths and detentions every year do not deter them.

In a way, though, it seems the government finds its hands tied because it wants them to be. It’s still not done any serious research about the number of people taking flight every year, or the reasons for such decisions.

The economy is bad and everybody wants to have it better, no doubt, but if that were the only reason then much of the country’s middle class would be preparing to squeeze into overcrowded dinghies with not nearly enough life jackets.

So, it turns out that not only has the government not put in the necessary work to raise its own awareness about his mess, it’s also not done enough to educate people about it properly; which explains why so many of them feel that their one-way ticket to European destinations is greasing the palms of shady human smugglers.

It’s never too late to build a strong national narrative about a pressing subject, especially one that wastes so many lives and invites such bad press for the whole country. Sadly, no government has given this issue the seriousness it deserves so far.

But now, with the bad guys taking their business online and succeeding even more because of it, it’s finally time to take this particular bull by the horns and give it the treatment that it deserves.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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KU Jul 16, 2023 04:25pm
Media will be writing about this topic for a long time especially when there is ''no news like bad news''. Human smuggling and trade are now multi-million businesses, and it's not possible without official patronage.
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