During a press conference held earlier today, Donald Trump made the claim that thanks to the Internet “there’s more yuman[sic] trafficking, and slavery, than at any time in the history of this world.” Of course, Trump provided no citation for this remarkable claim, because citations are for losers. Nevertheless, I was curious as to the truth of this claim.
A cursory internet search revealed many articles that put forward this claim, the earliest, being from an Alternet post in 2009. Indeed, this claim was repeated as gospel by several outlets across the ideological spectrum, including The Atlantic, World News Daily, and various newspapers. When authors of these articles deigned to provide a source for this claim, they usually pointed to various think-tank reports, including an Obama-era report by the Department of State, all of which place the total number of those enslaved around the world from 20 to 40 million.
When one considers that on the eve of the American Civil War, there were almost 4 million slaves, this number may seem shocking. Well, it may seem that way if you are a drooling microcephalic. People who possess an intelligence quotient of 80 or higher (Stanford-Binet or WAIS, take your pick) are cognizant of another absolutely shocking fact: there are more people alive now than at any time in the history of this world!
If, for the sake of argument, we take the highest estimate for the current number of slaves in the world, it represents a mere 0.5263% of a total global population of 7.6 billion individuals. Are Trump et al. truly claiming that in the past the total number of slaves had never represented more than half a percent of the world’s population? In 1860, slaves represented 12.57% of the total population of the United States alone!
Comparing total number of slaves across time periods without accounting for the increase in total world population is a statistical trick even worse than the “1 in 5 women are raped at university” claim. Whereas the latter myth relies on cooking the books with both an extremely expansive and idiosyncratic definition of sexual assault that utterly destroys its construct validity and a piss-poor sample size that provides nowhere near the statistical power needed for the inferences made by the report, the former merely pins its hopes on the fact that you are innumerate.
Now, all of this may just be merely risible fodder for the world-famous Glibertarians.com sneer take if it weren’t for the fact that these factoids are used as rhetorical lubricant for advancing public policy. The 2012 Department of State report used this claim to advocate for less restrictive requirements for victims of human trafficking seeking asylum, the 2016 WND op-ed uses the same claim to advocate for immigration restrictions from countries that follow sharia law, and today, Trump squarely placed blame on the Internet for this supposedly unprecedented number of slaves around the world.
It is this mythology that is used as a screen for the power-grabs the Federal government has made through the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which Trump signed into law on April 11th. FOSTA-SESTA remarkably passed the House of Representatives with a 388-25 margin, and the Senate 97-2, with only Ron Wyden and Rand Paul voting against. Truly, it seems the naked ambition to control one’s fellow man is the only thing that enjoys broad bipartisan support these days. Well, that and the erroneous belief that there is more human trafficking and slavery than any other time in world history.