CAIRO, — Thousands of online weapons trades have taken place in the Middle East through platforms like Facebook in the past few years, according to reporting from The New York Times and a Geneva-based research center.

“Online illicit arms markets are still in their infancy in the Middle East and North Africa region, and may continue to develop in both technical sophistication, and the variety and volume of small arms or light weapons offered for sale,” according to the Armament Research Service study that was commissioned by the Small Arms Survey.

Researchers studied 97 particular online sales or trades of light weapons in Libya since late 2014 – a trend that has increased in the years since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi. The New York Times’s own research identified similar arms trading on Facebook in countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Those online sales and trades mostly revolve around handguns and infantry weapons. But the research identified nearly 100 instances in Libya of what’s referred to as light weapons trading, including heavy machine guns, rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons. Some of the most active online traders are people suspected of having ties to armed groups, the research suggests.

Those sales and trades directly violate a Facebook policy announced in January that bans the private sale of guns through its platform.

Facebook, which serves more than 1 billion users daily, relies on its users to report the illicit activity before it takes action. For example, the company removed six of seven Facebook groups that appeared to be hubs for arms trading after the Times brought them to the company’s attention.

Facebook’s gun ban policy was borne out of its push toward enabling quicker and easier payment through its site.

“Since we were offering features like that, we thought we wanted to make clear that this is not a site that wants to facilitate the private sales of firearms,” Facebook’s Monika Bickert told the Times.

The report noted that weapons traders might have more difficulty using online platforms like Facebook because of new policies or site moderation. But it concluded that the market remains viable.

“The marketplaces are still made up of individuals selling goods to buyers who want them,” according to the report.

Source: Name News Network

Arab News Express