Facebook announced today that it will remove any content that is an attempt to buy, sell, or trade in “historical artifacts”. That decision is a welcome change, and the product of a terrific advocacy campaign by the Antiquities Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research (ATHAR) Project. in a press release, Greg Mandel, public policy manager at Facebook stated “To keep these artifacts and our users safe, we’ve been working to expand our rules, and starting today we now prohibit the exchange, sale or purchase of all historical artifacts on Facebook and Instagram”.
Some of the posts were truly shocking. Katie Paul, co-director of ATHAR was quoted in the NYT: “They literally will post pictures from auction catalogs and say, ‘See, this is how much this stuff can sell for, so go for it guys.’” And that kind of buyer-directed looting was reported by the BBC in 2019:
This welcome reform will help to prevent Facebook’s algorithms and micro-advertising campaigns from being used to sell illicit cultural objects, but likely will not end it entirely. As Prof. Amr al-Azm, from Shawnee State University in Ohio, adequate enforcement efforts will also be needed because simply “[r]elying on user reports and Artificial Intelligence is simply not enough”. Though more work may need to be done, this is a welcome development, and big congratulations should be directed at everyone at the ATHAR project and who called for this reform.
Tom Mashberg, Facebook, Citing Looting Concerns, Bans Historical Artifact Sales, The New York Times, Jun. 23, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/23/arts/design/facebook-looting-artifacts-ban.html.
Carlie Porterfield, Facebook Bans Artifacts Trade After Uptick In Posts Of Looted Objects, Forbes (Jun. 23, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/carlieporterfield/2020/06/23/facebook-bans-artifacts-trade-after-uptick-in-posts-of-looted-objects/.
Steve Swann, Facebook Bans “loot-to-Order” Antiquities Trade, Jun. 23, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53140615.
Tracking the history looted from a warzone, BBC News (May 2, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-middle-east-47671566/syrian-looting-tracking-the-history-taken-from-a-warzone.