Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced bipartisan legislation to help combat human trafficking activity on social media platforms, including Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram. Since 2000, over 30% of all sex trafficking victims have been recruited online. This legislation would instruct the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research the role social media plays in contributing to human trafficking crimes.
“Far too many victims of human trafficking are recruited and victimized online, and we need to do more to better understand social media platforms’ operations, so we can hold them accountable for the safety of their users,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “This bill would provide Congress with the information it needs to combat human trafficking activity on social media and work with these companies to spread awareness. I’ll never stop fighting to prevent human trafficking and to support survivors in Nevada and across the country.”
“Human trafficking is an often invisible crime that poses a serious threat to online users, especially adolescents on social media platforms,” said Senator Moran. “This legislation is a bipartisan effort to protect online users from human traffickers and prevent future harm by providing the research capabilities needed to combat threats of abuse.”
Between 2015 and 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline documented almost 1,000 cases of potential victims of sex trafficking who were recruited through internet platforms, most often Facebook, but also Instagram, Snapchat, Craigslist, online dating sites, and chat rooms. With limited data available on the true scope of the problem, Congress must take action to improve the federal government’s understanding of the role social media plays in human trafficking crimes. The Human Trafficking Online Research Act will allow the NSF Director to collect research on the intersection of social media, human trafficking and online human trafficking recruitment methods, as well as examine the preventative measures being used by social media platforms to combat crime and spread public awareness.
Throughout her career, Senator Cortez Masto has worked closely with the law enforcement community to increase resources needed to identify and stop human trafficking and exploitation. Last Congress, the Senator introduced the Interdiction for the Protection of Child Victims of Exploitation and Human Trafficking Act, bipartisan legislation to establish a federal pilot program to train law enforcement officers to recognize and rescue at-risk and exploited children. She also introduced the bipartisan FIND Trafficking Act, which was signed into law in 2020 and requires the Government Accountability Office to study how virtual currencies and online marketplaces are used to facilitate sex trafficking. The FIND Trafficking Act also requires the GAO to make recommendations on how to fight, detect, and deter these illegal activities.