A Facebook group set up to match Ukrainian refugees with British hosts is asking for help over concerns its thousands of members could be targets of Russian trolls and traffickers.
Room for Ukrainians was created about two weeks ago after the UK government announced that residents with no ties to Ukraine could be paid to host refugees.
It already has 13,700 members, but the group’s founder, Diana Shore, an assistant professor at the University of Warwick, is concerned it could be misused by trolls and traffickers, and has asked Facebook to introduce protocols to protect its members.
She says that while most of the posts are from Ukrainians seeking British homes, she has discovered some are from Russian trolls seeking to infiltrate the group.
“Only the government has the capacity to provide a safe matching service,” she told The Guardian newspaper.
“At the moment it is being left to charities and social media. Modern slavery and trafficking are disasters waiting to happen.
“The matching process needs to be regulated as a matter of urgency with oversight from an independent Ofsted-style regulator,” she said in reference to the UK’s schools watchdog.
“Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg needs to step up. I want to protect this site. I need to be able to identify people with malicious intentions more easily so they can be blocked.”
Ms Shore is regulating the site by searching the profiles of people who have posted suspicious comments and for any mention of “Russia”. She accepts this will not necessarily identify rogue members, and hopes that Facebook could use software to identify the geographical location of the people posting messages.
On Monday, a Russian court banned Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, and proscribed it as an extremist organisation.
The UK’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said all refugees and UK hosts will undergo background checks.
“All adults in a sponsor’s home, where Ukrainians will housed, will be subject to Home Office checks before any visa is issued,” it said.
“Adults in the house of a sponsor will also be required to complete DBS checks, with an enhanced DBS with barred list check for everyone where families are hosting children or vulnerable adults.”
More than 150,000 people have signed up to the programme to sponsor Ukrainian refugees.
The Ukraine Home Scheme will pay £350 ($464) a month to homeowners who can accommodate refugees for up to a year.
Those wishing to offer a place must nominate a person to house, and there has been confusion as to how hosts without links to Ukraine will be matched with people fleeing the country.
Government ministers have said charities, universities or religious groups could intervene.
Room for Ukrainians has matched more than 50 families with UK sponsors.