Secret Facebook groups flog scary heavy weapons in Middle East

Facebook groups brokering arms deals.
WhatsApp used to negotiate a price for the weapons.

Facebook weapons
Credit: Facebook group, via NYT

Facebook secretly at war with terrorist groups selling weapons in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Facebook PR says it closes the private groups “swiftly”—however, Zuckerberg’s minions only act if they’re told about it.

[Developing story. Updated 10:25 am, 2:45 pm and 3:24 am PT with more comment]

Facebook is mum on why it can’t proactively seek out these groups. Instead, we have to report each issue to an bored offshore peon. 

And it’s not just a few rusty grenades. The matériel also comprises heavy machine guns, manpads, and guided anti-tank weapons. Worryingly serious hardware, in other words.

Oh, and some of it comes from stocks given to Iraqi forces and Syrian rebels by the United States. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers duck and cover.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: “Cool” explosions

What’s the craic? C.J. Chivers shivers with Karam Shoumali and Shuaib Almosawa—Facebook Groups Act as Weapons Bazaars:

Facebook...has been hosting...arms bazaars, offering weapons ranging from handguns [to] guided missiles. ... The weapons include many distributed by the United States.

The findings were based on a study by...Armament Research Services [ARES] about arms trafficking on social media. [It] documented 97 attempts at unregulated transfers...through several Libyan Facebook groups. ... All of these...violate Facebook’s policies.

The rate of new posts has been unmistakably brisk. ... ARES documented 250 to 300 posts...each month on the Libya sites alone, and...trending up.

Similar markets Iraq, Syria and Yemen. ... In Iraq, [they] resemble inside looks at the failures of American train-and-equip programs. ... Many of the weapons shown still bear inventory stickers and...add-ons favored by American forces. ... Weapons identical to those Syrian rebels have also been traded [including] a wire-guided anti-tank missile system.

Sounds scary. Lily Kuo has more—You can buy an anti-aircraft gun on Facebook:

An online marketplace for illicit weapons is thriving. ... Heavy machine guns, rocket...launchers, and anti-aircraft guns on...Facebook.

During his 40-year reign...Gaddafi stockpiled...$30 billion worth of weapons. ... Since his 2011, [they] have been flooding into the local marketplace, ... Heavy machine guns went for an average of...$5,900...and an anti-aircraft system...ZPU-2, got offers for...$62,000.

Where's all this info coming from? This anonymous ARES author blogs—Weapons traded via social media platforms:

The project outputs rely on a database...which contains information about both groups and individual traders active on popular...communication platforms. [The] Conflict Materiel (CONMAT) database...includes examples of arms traded via social media and communications platforms in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, and other countries.

What we need right now is the blog equivalent of a spit-take. Joe Svetlik dislikes this—People are using Facebook to sell weapons:

​Facebook: the place to keep in touch with friends...and buy lethal weapons. Hang on, what?

Arms dealers aren't exactly known for playing by the rules. ... Facebook is cracking down on them, however. ... About a year ago, Facebook started letting users send money through its Messenger app, so it's hardly surprising.

What does Zuckerberg have to say for himself? His spokesdroid spoke to Aunty BBC:

It's against Facebook's Community Standards to coordinate...sales of firearms, and we remove any such content as soon as we become aware of it. We encourage people to use the reporting links [on] our site so that our team of experts can review content swiftly.

Oy. But perhaps the glass is actually half-full? jnubbles sees a silver lining:

This is somehow a bad thing? Seems like it would be easier for the security agencies to keep track of them if they are using Facebook.

Update 1: Of course, not everyone agrees that getting involved in Lybia was a great plan. For example, Winston Smith, which might be a pseudonym:

The Zio-corporate and military-industrial elite of UK/US/France must be pleased their terrorist project in Libya was so fruitful. They killed the man that had led Libya to becoming the most advanced African country, possibly the most advanced Muslim country that existed, and turned it into an ISIS paradise rife with mercenary Islamist extremists and weapons for every one of them.

Winston is, of course, entitled to his opinion in this free-speech-loving democracy. As is this next commentator. Amongst a fairly NSFW thread, here's Itistruethough:

Why even call attention to this?.. I guaran****intee the NSA tech spooks are all up in there getting actionable intel which makes it easier to bomb those idiots. ... If they wanna honeypot themselves, let them!

Update 2: But trading guns is illegal, right? Yes and no, says LynnwoodRooster:

Well, maybe in the US where it's essentially exercising 1A and 2A rights - that should be banned, after all. But it's fine in Libya and other places overseas because it's part of their culture and Facebook would show microaggressions if they didn't allow such trades and discussions to take place.

Um, OK, if you say so. But CanadianMacFan is slightly sarcastic:

Should be easy to find them with Facebooks real name policy.

Update 3: ARES researchers Nic Jenzen-Jones and Ian McCollum held a fascinating AMA Friday. Here are the highlights:

Social media networks are...just communications platforms. ... There is no reason why people wouldn't use them to trade in arms.

We started systematic monitoring in...early 2013. ... We use a variety of traditional and non-traditional intelligence gathering techniques. ... It's always a fascinating process.

We have definitely seen a range of...unusual arms and munitions offered. ... One oddity: a FN Herstal Model 110 [which] was almost exclusively purchased by the enforcement. ... Finding [it] outside of Europe is very unusual. ... We were able to verify [some] serial numbers.

There is brand counterfeiting going on...copying better known guns. ... There was really not as much old/obsolete material as I would have expected. ... The biggest surprise...was the almost complete absence of Mosin-Nagant rifles. ... Mostly the oldest stuff dates to the 1900-1920 period.

There were some advanced weapon systems that raise particular questions. ... These include relatively modern...ATGW, as well as...MANPADS.

And Finally…

“Cool” explosions

You have been reading IT Blogwatch by Richi Jennings, who curates the best bloggy bits, finest forums, and weirdest websites… so you don’t have to. Catch the key commentary from around the Web every morning. Hatemail may be directed to @RiCHi or
Opinions expressed may not represent those of Computerworld. Ask your doctor before reading. Your mileage may vary. E&OE.

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