Social media companies failing to remove suspected people-smuggling pages, MPs told

3 September 2020, 15:21

The committee meeting came after a record breaking day of illegal Channel crossings
The committee meeting came after a record breaking day of illegal Channel crossings. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms are not removing pages flagged as being linked to people smuggling operations because they don't breach terms and conditions, MPs have been told.

Rob Jones, director of threat leadership at the National Crime Agency (NCA), told the Home Office Committee it had been a "challenging" time after just 578 pages were closed out of more than 1,200 that were flagged to platforms.

He said this left 485 that were rejected for not breaching terms and conditions.

According to Mr Jones, criminals have been taking advantage of end-to-end encryption and closed groups to organise moving migrants from France to the UK.

It has led the NCA to alert specific platforms to such activity in order to get the pages removed.

"We were very certain when we made these referrals that there was a problem with those accounts," he said.

"To see that level of attrition with not all those accounts being closed is challenging for us."

Mr Jones initially hesitated when asked to name individual networks, but when asked if Facebook and YouTube were among them, he confirmed they were.

Meanwhile, the committee also heard on Thursday how migrants had been travelling to the UK on a "false premise" after French politicians spread "misconceptions" about living life undetected.

Answering questions, the new clandestine Channel threat commander, Dan O'Mahoney, said it was "absolutely correct" to assert that politicians in France had circulated the idea of migrants being looked after if they successfully made the cross-Channel trip.

It came after Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, asked about suggestions made in relation to it being easier to work illegally under cover in the UK.

REAF MORE: Record-breaking number of migrants reach UK shores on Wednesday

He said: "It would appear that French members of parliament are party to putting around these misconceptions about how they are actually going to be looked after if they do make it to the UK.

"That's part of the problem, isn't it, that people are coming here on a false premise?"

On Wednesday, a record breaking 416 migrants reached British shores in small boats - a figure revised up from 409 by the Home Office.

This is almost double the last record high, which was set on 6 August with 235 people making the trip.

More than 5,600 migrants have now made similar journeys to the UK this year, leading to Mr Jones, Mr O'Mahoney and other senior officials to answer questions on the crisis this week.

READ MORE: Fisherman explains why he helps migrants in Channel: "They're coming to better their lives"

Evidence is specifically being heard from the Home Office, NCA, Immigration Enforcement and UK Visas and Immigration, and is looking into the government's approach to combatting organised crime facilitating such border crossings.

It is also investigating co-ordination with agencies in other countries.

READ MORE: Banksy funds boat to rescue refugees crossing the Mediterranean

Despite his earlier comments on the approach of some French politicians, Mr O'Mahoney praised the overall conduct of counterparts in France for being "as committed as we are".

He said: "They have prevented 3,000 people from crossing this year, including yesterday close to 200."

READ MORE: David Lammy calls for British compassion for refugees and migrants

Turning to an example from Wednesday's crossings, the former royal marine said French authorities had stopped "a very large" inflatable boat carrying 63 people from leaving the beach.

These crossings, however, are "nowhere near the level that we want it to be," he added.

"The engagement with the French is occurring at every level from political right through to the front line.

"It's happening daily, it's intensive, I am in contact with my interlocutors in France and going there in person."