Facebook has announced that the company will begin in the Amazon rainforest, claiming down on the illegal sale of protected areas on its site. It changed its policy after an investigation was made regarding this by a leading news channel. The new measures will apply only to conservation areas and not publicly owned forests, and the move will be limited to Amazon.
A recent study has revealed that among all the deforestation happing in the Amazon, a third of all happens in the publicly-owned forests. How Facebook plans to find the illegal ads will not be revealed by the company. But new listings would be identified and blocked by it in protected areas of the Amazon.
In February, it was revealed by a leading news channel that plots of rainforests as large as 1,000 football pitches were being listed on Facebook’s classified ads service. Inside protected areas, many of the plots are there, including land reserved for indigenous people and national forests. To prove that the ads were real, the leading news channel arranged meetings between four sellers and an undercover operative posing as a lawyer claiming to represent wealthy investors.
Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court, in response to the investigation, ordered an inquiry into the sale of protected areas of the Amazon via Facebook. Facebook has made it clear that the company is ready to work with local authorities. To halt the trade, it will not take any independent action. Now the company says it has consulted the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and other organizations to take its first steps to address the issue.
According to a California tech firm, “We will now review listings on Facebook Marketplace against an international organization’s authoritative database of protected areas to identify listings that may violate this new policy.”
Database managed by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre is being used by Facebook to find the criminal sellers. According to UNEP, it is the most comprehensive database and is updated monthly using reports from a range of government and other institutions. The effectiveness of the Facebook proposal is being questioned by Brazilian lawyer and scientist Brenda Brito. If they don’t make it mandatory for sellers to provide the area’s location on sale, any attempt at blocking them will be flawed. Globally, Facebook should have the best database, but if it doesn’t have some geo-location reference, it will not work.
In its investigation, the news channel found that some ads featured satellite images and GPS coordinates, but not all shared that level of information. Sellers are not required to post the precise location of the advertised land as told by Facebook to the news channel. The Amazon rainforest covers more than seven countries and occupies 7.5 million sq km. Facebook did not confirm whether it was also working with each region’s respective government to strengthen enforcement.
In Brazil, 60% of the Amazon rainforest is there, where deforestation rates are 12-year high. The Brazilian government’s public forest database is not being used. This data could be a vital tool for any attempt to control the majority of illegal sales online. Since 2016 this data has been available online. To improve the effort, its information can be used.