E-commerce is the new frontier of economy. All you need is a credit card (or a PayPal account), a few clicks and that is it. You can buy all sorts of things on the Web from clothing to housewares, from collector’s items to food. There are no goods at present that are not offered for sale on the Internet. Even illegal things. Forbidden videos and images, drugs, and even weapons can be easily ordered online.
It is enough to know the right channels and what to do, turn to sellers who work in strict anonymity, hidden in the folds of an increasingly chaotic virtual world, which now involves also social networks. According to research conducted by “Small Arms Survey” and the ‘”Armament Research Services’ (Ares), new communications platforms (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram) have become, for example, the main market where militias active in Libya buy weapons. A slap in the face of security. Exchanges take place in closed groups, far from prying eyes and from the controls of the international police forces.
In general, individual and group purchase of weapons has increased in the North African country. According to the report, 1,346 illegal trades were tracked last year. A big chunk of them happened online and did not concern only small arms, but also heavy machine guns, rocket and grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons and “light” air defense systems (MANPADS). A decent powder magazine. Libyan militia and other armed groups are responsible for most of the online armament shopping on social media, where they place weapons that cannot be stored or used for some reason. On the whole, according to the study, not only the online black market has grown. The black market in general has been growing exponentially in Libya since the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The spread of the web has hugely favored this phenomenon, so that both Facebook and Instagram have tried to find a remedy, redoubling their efforts to track down and remove communication regarding sale between private individuals from their platforms. “We remove this type of content – the managers of the company founded by Mark Zuckerberg explained CNN – as soon as we find it out. We also encourage users to use the report link, so we can quickly check the contents.” To finish, the study conducted by the two NGOs pointed out that the phenomenon, which was thoroughly studied on the Libyan case, actually concerns many other countries with ongoing conflict or where armed groups are strongly present (such as Iraq, the Yemen, or Egypt).
This problem does not affect only international war theaters. In October 2013, a fifteen-year-old student from Kentucky was caught with a gun at school. When they asked him “Where did you get the gun?” he answered “on Facebook”. The news reported by Venture Beat became a pain for the company in Silicon Valley. The portal, in fact, spotted and quoted dozens of themed pages created by users of the most popular social network in the world. A portal reporter, pretending he was an interested customer, managed to buy a semiautomatic gun in record time: 15 minutes. “You can buy automatic unlicensed guns with abraded matrix and other weapons that are prohibited by the law of your State – Venture Beat wrote -. If you are under 18, you can still buy a gun, although this is prohibited by federal regulations.”
“We are certainly aware that social media are used to sell firearms, and in cases when we receive information about it, either through confidential informants or otherwise, we take them seriously and investigate,” said Helen Dunkel from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The problem is that online thieves are often ahead of the guards.