The Internet Platforms Need to Use “Means” to Cut Off the Interest Chain of Illegal Wildlife Trading | Science and Technology Daily Focuses on “Wildlife Free E-Commerce” (II)

Recently, the National People’s Congress has issued a decision comprehensively prohibiting wildlife consumption. The decision aims to comprehensively prohibit the consumption of wildlife, seriously crackdown illegal trade of wildlife, and provide a strong legislative guarantee to maintain public health and ecological safety, and protect people’s health and safety.


China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) has been focused on the online trade of wildlife. During the outbreak of Covid-19, volunteers from various environmental organizations have kept a close look at the online trend. They worry that some unlawful businesses will trade online when offline trade is prohibited.
“To contain online illegal trade of wildlife, the technical problem is not an issue, what matters is the importance attached to it.” Zhou Jinfeng, secretary-general of CBCGDF, told the reporter of Science and Technology Daily that laws and regulations won’t be enforced automatically, thus coordinated efforts are required to achieve the goal of having an online platform free of illegal wildlife trade.


Over 30,000 Species are listed as Banned Products for E-Commerce


TaoBao,,, Pinduoduo, WeChat, Weibo, Baidu, TikTok, Kuaishou and Xiaohongshu…All these internet platforms are supervised by volunteers of Wildlife-Free E-Commerce Initiative. Recently, volunteers have sent letters to the platform demanding the removal of illegal products of wildlife.


Volunteers provided reporters of Scientific and Technology Daily with some links for selling wildlife, which they found in late February on E-Commerce platforms. So far, most of the links are no longer working, indicating the removal of such products by platforms.
Currently, if you search “civet” or “pangolin”, no search results will pop up. Instead, one will see a picture with “Say No to Wildlife Trade” on it. According to statistics provided by Alibaba, more than 30,000 species including shark fin, bear bile, sea turtle and living firefly are listed as banned products by Ali, and strict control and crackdown have been imposed on relevant hunting tools.


Social media platforms are also used for online wildlife trade. To detect such secretive illegal trade, to a large extent, relies on the tip-off of the public.
In 2005, Tencent launched the “Penguins Love the Earth” campaign, opening the channel for reporting illegal trade of wildlife. In 2019, the platform handled about 5000 complaints on wildlife protection and took measures regarding 2600 valid complaints. Zhong Zhenkun, a security expert of the “Penguins Love the Earth” team, stated that more complaints of unlawful information regarding species such as tiger, leopard, rhino, and elephant are filed than those of other species, accounting for half of the total number. Other species include turtle, helmeted hornbill, antelope, hawksbill turtle, pangolin, wolf, red coral, bear, whale, etc.


Network “slang” increases the difficulty of investigation


Jin Keke, head of civil and commercial law at East China University of Political Science and Law and Dean of the School of Law, said that the internet platform has a reasonable regulatory obligation for all illegal acts on the platform. “They can take reasonable technical measures such as automatic warning of some keywords to manage illegal wildlife transactions.”


In fact, the network platform is indeed in action, and technology and data are their sharp tools.


Alibaba’s security risk control brain provides the core ability of governance for the platform. Through artificial intelligence algorithms and other technologies, it can comprehensively detect text, pictures, video, live broadcast, and other content, and realize millisecond-level recognition of information involving wildlife violations. In 2019, Taobao intercepted and cleared up 1.35 million pieces of relevant illegal information, involving 834 kinds of animals and plants.


Since the outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia, the platform has upgraded the full link monitoring means, which has greatly improved the scanning frequency and efficiency of the algorithm and real-time interception system. At the same time, they have also upgraded the keywords of control, and will not directly pass the new items of users that touch the keywords of high risk.


Tencent has built a species identification knowledge base before, in which relevant laws and regulations, CITES appendix species, national key protected wildlife list, common species characteristics atlas and other popular science information are entered. When the report reviewers encounter species that cannot be identified, they will take the “species identification knowledge base” as the benchmark for screening.


“Once, a user reported that an account was selling ivory bracelets illegally, but the screenshot of the evidence provided was just a white bracelet product”, Zhong Zhenkun said that law enforcement departments have a set of very strict standards and processes for raw material identification of products involved in the case, which requires users to provide as much information assistance platform as possible when reporting illegal wildlife transactions.


The team also found some “slang” among the lawbreakers when combing the clues every day. Some people will send an elephant icon, with the words “non-material”, “jelly-material” and so on. In the field of wildlife products, these two seemingly inexplicable Chinese expressions refer to some kind of ivory products. These metaphors also make it difficult for the platform to identify some violations.


Zhong Zhenkun said that the illegal trade of wild animals and plants through the internet has seriously damaged biodiversity, ecosystem security, and human well-being. The internet platform can play an important role in combating the illegal trade of wild animals and plants. “However, due to the lack of correct awareness of some members of the public, there is still a large market demand for wild animals, and the fight against illegal trafficking of wild animals and plants is still under great pressure.”


Strengthen the legal responsibility of the network platform


Now that the wildlife has been completely forbidden, in the view of some volunteers, the online platform should remove all products associated with wildlife from the online stores, regardless of whether the business has a wildlife domestication and breeding license.


In response, Zhou Jinfeng pointed out that from the perspective of environmental protection organizations, online wildlife illegal trade is still a prominent problem. On the one hand, online transactions are not well regulated because of their concealment; on the other hand, the legal definition of platform responsibility is not clear enough. CBCGDF suggested that the Wildlife Protection Law under revision should define the responsibility of the network platform and urge it to strengthen its management due diligence, otherwise it should bear joint and several liabilities for damage to wildlife.


“The view of the joint and several liabilities is reasonable and has the current legal basis.” According to the analysis of Prof. Zhang from the school of civil and commercial law of Southwest University of Political Science and Law, if illegal wildlife transactions occur on the e-commerce platform, the platform shall bear the following responsibilities: Article 30: administrative responsibility for preventing illegal and criminal activities; Article 31: obligation to keep records of relevant commodity information; Article 32: obligation to warn, suspend and terminate services for illegal acts; Article 38 joint and several liabilities for tort in the state of knowledge.


Liu Changqiu, director and researcher of life law research center of Law Institute of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and professor of Law School of Wenzhou University, thinks that since we want to completely fast wild animals, we can not only prohibit hunting and not the sale of hunting tools, nor only prohibit offline but not online. It is objectively necessary for the internet platform to bear the joint and several liabilities for wildlife damage. However, he also reminded us that such responsibilities should not be expanded without principles.


Some places have paid attention to the responsibility of the online platform in the legislation, such as Fujian and Tianjin’s relevant decisions have made prohibitive provisions on the online wildlife trade. “After the decision of the National People’s Congress is released, whether the wild animals and their products with domesticated breeding certificates can be sold depends on the final list issued by relevant departments. For example, pigeons, rabbits, turtles, bullfrogs and so on can be sold, but most of them cannot be sold any more”, Liu Changqiu pointed out that at present, there is no clear requirement for such goods to be removed from the internet platform. Therefore, how to do this depends on the follow-up of China’s subsequent supporting legislation.

(Photo credit: CBCGDF)

Original Chinese article:

By / Ye Lvye, Xue Tongtong




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