Facebook is profiting from child trafficking, Theresa May has revealed, as she warned that people smugglers were advertising “travel agent-style” services online to migrants.
At a meeting of EU leaders, the Prime Minister pledged to crack down on the practice, which is contributing to the death toll as people try to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe in search of a new life.
Mrs May accused Facebook and other social media companies of failing to tackle the problem because of how easy it was for trafficking gangs to post convincing advertisements online without them being removed.
Some were even promising discounts for children, government research found.
This allowed vulnerable people to believe they were paying for a “safe, normal” form of travel to reach Europe, she said.
She added that British authorities had reported more than 500 advertisements to Europol over the past year in a bid to hamper the smugglers’ efforts. It came as Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, warned that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook were in danger of becoming like “the darkest of street corners where women fear to tread”.
Ms Davidson said she no longer actively engaged online because of the amount of abuse she was subjected to.
She added that women used to be afraid to walk the streets at night for fear of abuse, but had now reclaimed the night and were no longer afraid to walk alone in the dark, and a similar attitude needed to be taken to the internet, which remained a dangerous environment.
Her claims come just a few days after she ruled herself out of becoming prime minister because of the damaging effect it would have on her mental health.
She said Twitter started as a “puckish and irreverent skip through my daily musings” and jokes with journalists, but had now “changed completely”.
She added: “I am simply tired of wading through the mire of people who have no wish to engage in the substance of debate, but just want to call me a string of four-letter words. Until that changes, I’m done. And the mute button is my friend. We are in danger of allowing online platforms like Twitter to become the darkest of street corners where women fear to tread.” Speaking at a summit in Salzburg last night, Mrs May highlighted the dangers of social media for vulnerable migrants seeking a new life in Europe.
She said people were often tricked into thinking they were paying to be taken to Europe on a boat, but the reality was more often a dangerous ride on an overcrowded dinghy. Many die during such journeys.
In a bid to show European nations that the UK would continue to support them after Brexit, Mrs May said that Britain would offer its expertise in removing terror content online and apply the same methods to tackling people trafficking.