Reporting vs. Exploiting: Human Trafficking in #Cambodia & The Use of #SocialMedia

This is definitely one of the most controversial posts I’ve written – in my opinion. Also not travel related but definitely related to Cambodia and the current issues. I have written similar posts before on nonprofit/volunteering and advocacy work such as “Thinking about doing a voluntourism? Let’s give it more thought!” and “Cambodia: Still more to learn pt.1.”

I stumbled across a very interesting article by @faineg, an acquaintance of mine and a journalist in Cambodia. I knew Nick Kristof was in Cambodia but I must have missed his heroic journey as he live-tweeted, broadcasting to the world – his brothel raid in Cambodia with Somaly Mam.

I respect and have been following both Nick Kristof and Somaly Mam. Nick Kristof has definitely played a huge role in bringing attention to the issues of human trafficking of especially women and under-age children. As an issue that needs to be addressed, raising awareness is key. Somaly Mam, a former victim of human trafficking, and now the founder of Somaly Mam foundation has definitely put her life at risk many times to rescue current victims of human trafficking from brothels around Cambodia.

The Faster Times article by Faine Greenwood addressed the issue of whether live-tweeting a sensitive issue such as human trafficking was necessary or even a good idea. She raises some interesting points on how if it was a natural disaster or some other issue that actually benefited others, it’s a different story.

Photo Credit: Salon.com

The article linked to a different article by Irin Carmon at Salon.com whose first line really caught my attention: When a New York Times columnist live tweets a Cambodia brothel raid, who benefits — the women or the reporter?

The question about who benefits in this live-tweet on the raid really makes you think. Who was Kristof tweeting for… or even.. what was he tweeting for? With the rising criticism, Kristof responded saying that the main problem with human trafficking is that it does not receive enough “sunlight” and that is why he wanted to tell the story through Twitter. However, I can’t help but question whether he wanted the “sunlight” on him.

“I’m safe & my live-tweeting of the raid on brothel in northern Cambodia is over. You can see them all on my Twitter page.” – Nicholas Kristof

Human trafficking and its victims are at high risk especially during a raid that involves military officials and weapons. Is tweeting on the side really THE way to raise awareness on the issue? In addition, sharing live stories of victims without their ‘consent’ and exploiting the vulnerable as a way to create an exciting, heroic story, is another ‘human rights’ issue. Similar discussions have been brought up in the nonprofit world on whether it was ethical to use pictures of starving children to raise funds. How is sharing life stories of what the victims are going through in this raid any less personal and private? Where is the respect to their privacy? Ethical journalists balance the public’s need to know against potential harms to innocent people.

In addition, to an audience that may not be familiar with the issue or the situation at all, we can’t help but question whether 140 characters is enough to really tell the behind story of the issue. I believe Twitter is helpful and useful in many situations but it is also important to remember that it isn’t a mode that fits every story and every situation.

Another point brought up by Greenwood was the issue on the raid itself and how it was portrayed in Kristof’s NYtimes Sunday Opinion Column. I am truly happy that those girls were rescued from the brothel. He did a nice job of explaining the situations in the brothels and also correctly reporting the decrease in the number of victims of human trafficking. However, as Greenwood points out… human trafficking is a long, on-going issue in Cambodia – but the main reason it is an issue is because not much is being done about it. The main reason for this? I like to say #TIC: This is Cambodia. I’m sure it is very similar in other countries but as Greenwood puts it:

“Brothels are technically illegal in Cambodia, but are widely tolerated—including on my own street—as long as owners pay bribes to the proper authorities on time, and underage prostitutes (whose numbers are, as Kristof correctly notes, in decline) are kept out of the public eye.”

Like many crimes and issues in Cambodia, as long as there is some sort of bribing involved, it is not that difficult to get away with such issues. The raid may be a short-term solution to the problem but definitely not a sustainable solution especially if the people in the situation are in great danger. I read a part of Kristof’s article which stated that Somaly Mam had been in many dangerous situations – even in situations where her own daughter was kidnapped and gang raped at a brothel. Maybe it’s time to come up with a different solution….

What are your thoughts on this? Is live-tweeting a sensitive event involving privacy concerns going too far? Are there situatons where tweeting sensitive events is acceptable? And is drawing attention to a little-known and horrifying issue worth any possible privacy concerns?

This post was also posted on my other blog, For the Better, which focuses on nonprofits, corporate social responsibility, social enterprises, and positive change.

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