Facebook and Google Earth help probe eco-crimes in the Middle East
Conflict and corruption in the Middle East have a large impact on the environment, although it is difficult to record and punish these crimes. Some crimes include makeshift oil refineries in Syria and the destruction of agriculture or poaching of rare wildlife in Yemen. Open-source intelligence, or information that is freely available from social media platforms has been used to create a solution. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram can publicly access satellite imagery and Google Earth mapping.
Wim Zwijnenburg works for Pax, a dutch human rights organization and works to gather information for environmental crimes. Some of the information found is already well-known, however there often isn’t documentation because officials will not or cannot compile it. The research helps to unveil the damage done on the environment from human activities, including long-term trends, such as the loss of agriculture in Yemen. Social media can be used to document crimes of fisheries, forestry crime and poaching, allowing researchers to create legal cases. The data found in open-source intelligence can be used in a court of law if a local prosecutor or law enforcement agency corroborates the evidence through criminal investigation. Even if corroboration is not possible for every crime found, younger activists engage and can pressure local government for change and action.