Technological revolution

The development of the Internet and social media has opened up a plethora of opportunities. As is the case with all technological advances, it has been used for both good and bad. Traffickers have taken to using the Internet and social media for recruiting their victims, marketing their ‘wares’ and managing their criminal activities. For instance lover boys contact their victims via Facebook, Snapchat or Skype. Internet advertisements from fake modeling agencies and false Facebook profiles tout dubious job offers. In one particular case, a pimp recruited prostitutes via a false Facebook profile in which he pretended to be a woman, offering his victims hostess jobs in show business. During the initial interview and photo shoot, he manipulated the girls into having sex. They were consequently proposed escort work under a false self-employed status. The promised large financial rewards did not materialize.

People smuggling

In 2016, Europol has traced 17.000 people smugglers who were using Facebook to organize their smuggling activities bringing people to the EU. Facebook advertisements pitch everything from smuggling trajectories, false documents, to marriages of convenience. The ads list detailed pricing, success rates, photos and promotional videos. Smugglers also offer smuggling trips to Western Europe on Instagram via malicious travel agencies. Logistical and financial details are discussed over Viber, Skype and WhatsApp.

Research method

Law enforcement has also increasingly turned to using the Internet and social media to identify victims and suspects. Electronic means of communication are used to interrogate victims and suspects. Financial transactions can be traced online. Images and messages on social media and smartphones are subject to detailed analysis. Smuggling victims were able to help investigators identify smugglers via their Facebook profiles.


Police and prosecutors make intensive use of the Internet and social media to combat human trafficking for sexual exploitation and human smuggling. This is not yet the case for cases of economic exploitation. Magistrates, police, and social inspectors should be made aware of the issue and provided with sufficient practice-oriented training. Analysis of computers or smartphones, adult dating websites and Facebook profiles are invaluable sources, provided sufficient investments are made in IT, and capacity building of law enforcement.

Myria, the Federal Migration Center, is an independent public institution with three mandates: promoting the fight against trafficking in human beings and smuggling of human beings, informing the authorities about the nature and extent of migratory flows and protecting the fundamental rights of foreign nationals. Myria is also the Belgian independent National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings.