Birmingham area nonprofit Covenant Rescue Group is struggling with a Facebook shadowban as it tries to expand its efforts to combat human trafficking and child exploitation in 2024.
Stephen Nix, a chief marketing and information officer with Covenant Rescue Group, said he began noticing a sharp decline on the group's Facebook page two months ago when they began a year-end giving campaign.
Shadowbanning occurs when a social media company blocks a user, group or business by making their posts and comments invisible to other users.
"It was getting like hardly any views at all," Nix told 1819 News earlier this week.
Josh Moody, chief operations officer and board president at Covenant Rescue Group, said the group has been able to expand its operations assisting law enforcement in recent years. Their budget last year was around $80,000 and increased to close to $1 million in 2023. Moody said the group has budgeted $2.5 million for 2024.
"In this day and age, apart from social media, that can't happen. We're not handwriting letters anymore. We're not cold calling because everyone screens phone calls now. Nobody answers phone calls. Everybody is on social media, and when social media starts squashing your message, it hurts. You kind of get your hands tied. God has provided faithfully all year long, and we know he's going to continue to, but at the same time, this is something that needs to be addressed," Moody said. "We can do it with proper fundraising but social media is going to be a big part of that."
Covenant Rescue Group helped plan a sting operation recently with local agencies that targeted suspects seeking to exploit juvenile girls in the Montgomery area. The group also provided trained officers on how to plan and execute similar operations.
The group is privately funded and receives no government grants for their work. Covenant Rescue Group was founded in June 2019 by former U.S. Navy SEAL Jared Hudson and his wife, Lauren.
"What we want to do is train them to be more effective in combating human trafficking and child exploitation. Part of what we do is we have a program we call the STOP program, Sex Trafficking Operations Program. That's going to be typically an eight-hour training course that we'll do for law enforcement," Moody said. "First day is going to teach them how to chat online, how to set up these profiles online to be able to really communicate with these pedophiles from the get-go, how to conduct a successful chat, (and) how to conduct a chat that can be prosecutable. Second day is going to be an interrogation/interview course. We're going to teach them how to interrogate these guys because you kind of have got to handle it a little differently than you would a normal interrogation. We want to be able to teach them how to interrogate, question these guys properly."
He continued, "The second piece of that is typically going to be advising them on conducting the sting operations."
"We want to leave them with the tools to be able to conduct these operations after we're gone. To kind of give you an example of that, up in Indiana we've done a few trainings with the guys up in Johnson County, Indiana. Couple of trainings, couple of sting operations we've done over the last few years and they continue to conduct successful operations year after year and this is after we're gone. That's kind of the idea, in this era of 'defund the police' these agencies don't have the funds (or) the bandwidth to pull off these operations. We want to fill in that gap for them and show them really these can be done without spending $100,000 on an operation and we kind of give them the tools to be able to do that," Moody added.
"What we want to do in these operations is set up a safe environment, as safe as possible for advocate groups to get in front of these ladies and really give them a way out. If they want to leave the life (or) get out of it, they're left with some resources (and) contact information. If they want to leave that night, we'll take them out of there. We've got some guys that can take them out safely so they don't have to worry about a pimp or something like that. That's kind of the stateside piece. That's our two bread and butter operations," Moody said.
Nix said the shadowban by Facebook harms their ability to get the word out about their services.
"We're just trying to get the word out about what we do. Right now, it's tough to do that digitally being shadowbanned and suppressed by organizations like Facebook. I know a lot of conservative companies are dealing with that. It kind of is what it is. Until something is done about it we might be stuck trying to wade up creek without a paddle with Facebook. In the end, we know God has got us and we're going to be successful in whatever we do," Nix said.
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