A new report is sharing shocking information about how human traffickers are moving their exploitative practices online.

According to the Human Trafficking Institute, its recently published 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report revealed that 59 percent of online sex trafficking recruitment last year took place on Facebook, Business Insider reports.

The report was released to mark the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which made human trafficking
a federal crime. Throughout this year’s edition of the report, it highlights data and trends that span across two decades of anti-trafficking enforcement in the U.S.

In addition to Facebook, Snapchat, WeChat and Facebook’s Instagram have also been identified as hotspots for sex trafficking cases.

Sex trafficking that used to take place by kidnapping strangers off the street is becoming less popular as the internet is increasingly becoming the new breeding ground for child exploitation and victim recruitment.

“The internet has become the dominant tool that traffickers use to recruit victims, and they often recruit them on a number of very common social networking websites,” Human Trafficking Institute CEO Victor Boutros told CBS News. “Facebook overwhelmingly is used by traffickers to recruit victims in active sex trafficking cases.”

A spokesperson from Facebook shared a statement with Business Insider condemning users who attempt to use its platform as a human trafficking tool.

“Sex trafficking and child exploitation are abhorrent and we don’t allow them on Facebook,” they said. “We have policies and technology to prevent these types of abuses and take down any content that violates our rules. We also work with safety groups, anti-trafficking organizations and other technology companies to address this and we report all apparent instances of child sexual exploitation to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”

The new report estimated that 53 percent of online victims were identified as children and an overwhelming number of them were between the ages of 14 and 17. Moreover, it shared that girls under the age of 18 are most likely to be victims in human trafficking prosecutions with women following immediately after.

The issue of child exploitation online is becoming an alarming point of focus on Facebook and other social media platforms where these heinous crimes are taking place.

During a Facebook shareholder’s meeting late last month, Business Insider reports that Survivors’ Council of ECPAT-USA member Sarah Cooper requested that the platform’s board prepare a report for investors on the risk of child trafficking happening on its platform.

“Facebook needs to immediately improve age verification, increase human monitoring of content and work in tighter cooperation with law enforcement,” Cooper said. “And it should absolutely delay any encryption on its platform until it can protect children.”

She supported her statement citing that Facebook’s acknowledgment that implementing end-to-end encryption would make it increasingly difficult to locate child sex abuse material on its platform.

However, the proposal was denied after a losing vote of roughly 980 million to 4.7 billion. The board opposed the move, according to Business Insider, citing the company’s work to both detect and fight abusive behavior.

The internet has already been identified as a place where numerous sex crimes and human trafficking cases occur, and now social media platforms have become vulnerable to these criminal acts as well.

The same distrust that exist for some online websites could be the same distrust that grows among social media users if platforms don’t step up to protect the safety and well-being of its digital communities.