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Whether you like it or not, we now live in the age of social media. With its practically limitless accessibility, anyone with internet connection can sign up and be part of a globally connected network where they can share just about anything. Unfortunately, this accessibility also makes social media a very hospitable platform to trade illegal wildlife. And as social media continues to develop and expand its reach, it is also opening more and more opportunities for illegal wildlife traders to grow their market.

As the trade of illegal wildlife continues to migrate to social media and to other digital platforms, enforcement agencies will need to adapt to address the continuing proliferation of cybercrime. The good news is that social media provides a wealth of data that is easily accessible, and with the right tools and know-how, it can allow enforcement agents to track illegal wildlife crimes and other activities that will help the wildlife conservation efforts of the country.

iwt online01Dr. Enrico di Minin, Associate Professor of Conservation Geography from the University of Helsinki, talks about machine learning to track illegal wildlife trade (IWT) on social media in his lecture on Environmental Conservation in the Digital Age last November 27, 2019 at the BMB Training Center, Quezon City. Representatives from partner agencies of NALECC-SCENR shared their experiences in combatting IWT online and expressed interest in further capacity building in this area.

The ADB/GEF-DENR Project on Combatting Environmental Organized Crime in the Philippines organized a seminar on “Environmental Conservation in the Digital Age” for representatives of member-agencies of National Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee- Sub-committee on Environment and Natural Resources (NALECC-SCENR), and more than 150 students from De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila University on November 26 and 27, 2019. The Resource Speaker was Dr. Enrico di Minin, an Adjunct Professor from the University of Helsinki and one of the leading experts in the world in using social media for environmental conservation.

iwt online02Students from Ateneo de Manila University participated in Dr. Enrico di Minin’s lecture on machine learning to track illegal wildlife trade (IWT) on social media last November 27, 2019. The said seminar was organized by the ADB/GEF-DENR Project on Combatting Environmental Organized Crime in the Philippines together with the Biology, Computer Science, and Communications Departments of Ateneo de Manila University.

The seminar introduced participants to different methods on how to mine data in social media platforms, to methods and techniques on evaluating mined data to investigate patterns of social behavior, and how to analyze these patterned social behaviors to support management and marketing endeavors. The methods and techniques also showed different ways on how to track illegal wildlife trading in social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Participants from government agencies shared some of their experiences related to Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) and expressed the need for further capacity building,  including the  hosting of a workshop and training on the different methods of mining and analyzing data wildlife crimes happening online.

iwt online03A student from De la Salle University engages with Dr. Enrico di Minin during his seminar on machine learning to track illegal wildlife trade (IWT) on social media held last November 26, 2019. The said lecture looked at how machine learning algorithms can be used to mine and classify IWT-related data from social media platforms.

Faculty and students from the Ateneo de Manila University and De la Salle University likewise expressed interest in the use of social media  and the opportunity for possible research collaboration and mentoring.

The success of the seminars indicated that there is a further need for more workshops and trainings with regards to cybercrime in the Philippines. Additionally, the increasing interest in addressing IWT from both enforcers and students poses a challenge for the IWT Project and DENR-BMB on how to harness this energy and provide more avenues and opportunities where this interest can be developed.