According to the verge, an art dealer in Darna, Libya, published a series of unusual advertisements on October 24, 2020. For sale: a Greco Roman statue with a marble bust covered in a robe that actually belongs to a museum.The seller posted a picture of the statue in Facebook's private groups, which are used to sell antiques.
The black market for looting is booming on Facebook. Although the company banned the sale of historical relics in June, many of the posts were posted in Arabic, and Facebook lacked the expertise to properly implement the new policy.
When Facebook was able to identify groups that flout its guidelines, experts said the company simply deleted them, deleting key files for researchers studying stolen art. "This is key evidence of repatriation and war crimes," said Katie Paul, CO director of the Athar project. "Facebook created a problem that they didn't make it something they could contribute, but made it worse."
Its influence is far beyond the scope of art theft. Since 2014, looted antiques have become the main source of funds for terrorist organizations such as Isis. The Middle East is rich in cultural relics, and the booty market is not as standardized as drug trafficking and arms sales.
Sellers of Greek and Roman statues advertise in Facebook groups with 5000 to 18000 members. There, traffickers broadcast their plunder live, offering each other mining skills and looking for buyers for debris still underground. Athar is currently monitoring 130 groups that specialize in selling antiques.
A post from a 340000-member syrian organization found a mosaic in the comments, Athar recorded one user saying the mosaic should not be removed while the other responded with a smiling expression.
This problem is particularly serious in areas where conflict is active, where trafficking in cultural relics can be a war crime. "It's outrageous and problematic," said Samuel Hardy, a researcher on cultural heritage and conflict at the Norwegian Institute. "When Facebook removes evidence that people publish themselves, we lose not only our ability to track cultural property and return it to the affected communities, but also any hope of identifying and preventing the criminals who profit from it."