Social media has made it easier for traffickers to eliminate the transition from messaging to meeting face-to-face. Nowadays, traffickers are easily able to exploit their victims without the need of seeing them physically. In many ways, social media has masked the normal cues that warn an individual of a potentially dangerous person. A 2018 report stated that while 58 per cent of victims eventually meet their traffickers face to face, 42 per cent who initially met their trafficker online never met their trafficker in person and were still trafficked.

In order for the traffickers to build trust with the individual(s), they keep track of what they post on their social media – snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. They educate themselves on what they like and dislike on those sites, and often are able to find ‘similarities’ between themselves and the individual(s). For example, if the individual posts a lot about their current emotions or situations, the trafficker can pretend to understand where they are coming from. The victims then feel loved, validated and seen because the traffickers are seemingly acknowledging the issues they are facing.

Examples of posts that draw traffickers attention, as written by PhysOrg are:

“Nobody gets me.”
“I am so sick of being single.”
“I am so ugly.”
“How do I look?”
“My life sucks.”
“She’s not my true friend.”
“My parents don’t trust me.”
“I’m being treated like a kid.”
“I need to get out of here.”

From there, a trafficker’s response includes:

“I understand you.”
“I love you.”
“I think you’re beautiful. I’ll encourage you to show your body. Use your body.”
“I’ll make your life better.”
“I’ll encourage you to take risks. You’re an adult.”
“I’ll protect you.”
“I’ll make you successful.”

The individual(s) are then encouraged to send risky pictures of themselves, which the trafficker uses to demand things from them. If it is a youth, they will use fear as a tactic, commonly saying, “You don’t want your parents to find out what we are talking about.”

One message can change everything. Andrea Powell, founder and director of FAIR girls says, “Even if just one individual messages back, traffickers can make thousands of dollars off of them very quickly.” It has been seen where “the traffickers posted photos of children on Facebook, and customers booked them through chat rooms like Yahoo Messenger or mIRC. The children were sold for $45 to $60” (VentureBeat).

It is crucial to educate professionals, parents, youth – especially those that may be prone to being more vulnerable to social media – of the dangers of bringing their lives into the realm of social media.