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Facebook takes action against illegal Amazon Rainforest sales

Social media platform, Facebook, has announced that it will begin cracking down on the unlawful sale of Amazon rainforest protected zones on its platform. This comes following a BBC investigation, where the company’s Marketplace platform was discovered to be used to broker sales of protected properties, such as Indigenous territory and national forest reserves.

These revelations spurred the Brazilian Supreme Court to open an investigation, despite Facebook’s initial denials. However, these new rules will only apply to conservation zones, not public lands, and they will only affect the Amazon, not other jungles or wildlife areas around the world. A third of all deforestation happens in Amazonian forests owned by the government, according to a recent analysis by the think tank IPAM (Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia). Although the company announced in a blog post that it is devoted to sustainability, Facebook did not explain why it altered its stance.

The article stated, “We’re devoted to sustainability and to safeguarding land in ecological conservation areas.” “On our commerce products across Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, we’re amending our commerce policy to specifically prohibit the purchasing or sale of any type of land in ecological protection areas.”

“Listings on Facebook Marketplace will now be compared to an international organization’s official database of protected areas to detect listings that may breach this new policy.” – Facebook.
According to a BBC News story, the database to be used is the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) of the United Nations Environment Programme, which catalogues protected areas. However, because Facebook does not compel users to provide the coordinates of the land they are selling, experts instantly questioned the effectiveness of the method.

“Any attempt to ban them will be misguided until they make it essential for vendors to identify the location of the area on sale,” Brenda Brito, a Brazilian lawyer and scientist, told BBC News. “They could have the best database in the world, but it won’t work unless they have a geo-location reference.”

Whistleblower France Haugen, who is also a former product manager on Facebook’s civic integrity team, disclosed to the US lawmakers that the company helped and encouraged the spread of misinformation across its platforms, intentionally facilitated unlawful conduct, and put profit ahead of user well-being.

Environmental organizations and news outlets had been criticizing Facebook for banning and restricting the distribution of coverage and reporting on climate change and other environmental issues even before the newest revelations.

Selling the Amazon, a BBC Our World series, shown in February of 2021, that areas of rainforest the size of 1,000 football pitches were being advertised on Facebook’s classified ads site. Many of the plots were located within forest protected zones, such as land reserved for indigenous peoples and national forests. The BBC also set up meetings between four dealers and an undercover operator posing as a lawyer representing wealthy investors to establish the adverts were genuine. One land-grabber, Alvim Souza Alves, was attempting to sell a block of land within the Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous reserve for almost £16,400 in local money.

Facebook is using a database maintained by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre to try to catch unlawful sellers. It is the most “complete” database of its sort, according to UNEP, and is updated monthly based on reports from “a variety of government and other institutions.” However, Brenda Brito, a Brazilian lawyer and scientist, doubts the efficiency of Facebook’s suggestions, saying, “Any attempt to restrict them will be flawed until they make it essential for vendors to specify the location of the region on sale.” It doesn’t matter if they have the best database in the world if they don’t have a geo-location reference,” she noted. During their investigation, the BBC discovered that some advertising included satellite imagery and GPS coordinates, but not all of them did.  

 

Facebook does not intend to make it mandatory for sellers to reveal the exact location of offered land. “We recognize that there are no ‘silver bullets in this topic, and we will continue to endeavour to ensure that people do not avoid our scrutiny,” a business spokeswoman stated.

Environmental activists in Brazil, on the other hand, see the Facebook announcement as a minor victory in the face of massive deforestation in the Amazon and several congressional attempts to weaken protection laws.

Ivaneide Bandeira, whose NGO Kandide was among those calling on Facebook to do more after the BBC’s investigation was published in February, is pleased. “I believe this announcement is positive. Although it’s a little late because they should never have allowed those ads in the first place.

Finally, it is worth noting that Facebook’s new stance will help to reduce the unnecessary sale of Amazon rainforest protected zones on its platform, thereby protecting the territory.

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