The dark side of social networking
Online technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. Who among us would deny using the internet and social networks to keep in touch with friends, family, work and what is going on in the world. The internet has also given low-cost access to entrepreneurs to reach customers beyond national borders and cultures and to compete in global markets.
But online technology also has its dark side.
If online technology helps improve our work productivity, the criminal world of human trafficking is also using it to cast a wider net for its victims.
According to Danah Boyd, senior researcher at Microsoft Research, the internet has become a new tool in the "modern-day slavery" business.
The commercial sex industry, which transcends borders, is also using social networks such as Facebook to recruit victims from countries of origin and to take them to various destinations.
In Thailand, there is no specific, official data on this problem. A study by the National Institute for Child and Family Development in 2012, however, reveals that in 2009, 37 girls out of 663 trafficking cases reported by the United Nations InterAgency Project on Human Trafficking were victims of human trafficking via social networks.
Meanwhile, a check on Google shows there are more than 500,000 websites featuring online dating, matchmaking and the commercial sex trade in Thailand.
It is certain that a number of customers of these sites will fall prey to human trafficking rackets. As the number and traffic of these sites increase, so do the number of victims.
This abuse of online technology by human trafficking rackets should prompt concerns among countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion, which comprises Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan province in China. These countries are known as major sources, transit points and destination countries for human trafficking.
They need to keep abreast with the situation so they can put in place proper mechanisms to fight against this modern-day slavery.
The internet, especially social networks, is a perfect tool for human trafficking gangsters. They use social networks to recruit the victims, then they trade the profile of the victims (their so-called "products") to their customers via e-mail or websites.
For the customers to buy the "products", they could send a consent e-mail to the traffickers.
Then the traffickers would send the "products" to the customers.
Online technology does not only help them to interact with other players in the business chain across national borders with great speed, it also makes it difficult for the authorities to track them down.
But there are still ways to contain this heinous crime. Each country in the Greater Mekong Subregion should beef up its anti-human trafficking laws, set up information systems, alert vulnerable groups of the threats that come in different guises, and use online technology to expand anti-human trafficking networks and monitor the problems.
Actually, these countries already have existing mechanisms to tackle human trafficking. The problem is a lack of policy consistency and implementation.
In addition, they still do not have the necessary technology to track online human traffickers.
Both governments and non-governmental organisations tend to think the investment in online technology to fight human trafficking is too costly.
But it is necessary for governments to have modern tools to keep up with criminals. It is also important to strengthen regional co-operation and networks as well as each country's laws, institutions, prosecution process, and other mechanisms to punish human traffickers.
Jidapa Meepien is a researcher at Thailand Development Research Institute. Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.