Source of misinformation fuelling US-Mexico border crisis

In 2021, experts in cybersecurity and migration drew attention to the role of unchecked social media platforms in fueling the migration crisis on the US-Mexico border.

These platforms, including Facebook, not only encouraged illegal migration to the United States but also promote hatred towards migrants through misinformation and disinformation, experts said.

To me, this echoes what happened with the European immigration crisis in 2015 – with misinformation and disinformation acting as a push-pull factor for immigrants and refugees leaving the Middle where the Syrian war was raging for the relative security of Europe.

Russia heavily shaped perceptions around the migrant flows into Europe. This was a moment when Europe’s anti-immigrant and far-right groups went into high gear. The weaponisation of migrants could also be seen in the Belarus-EU border crisis of 2021-22. And along the border of Poland and arguably Finland, too.

Along the US-Mexico border, the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) conducted a study in 2022, exposing the prevalence of false and misleading social media posts targeting migrants. These posts disseminated fabricated information about changes in immigration policy, special regulations for parents and pregnant women, and favorable conditions along migration routes.

This comes as US Air Force General Glen VanHerck said last year that Russia’s GRU had more agents in Mexico than any other country Could they be involved in this sort of messaging?

While the impact of misinformation on border apprehensions remains uncertain, a CNN story from 2021 highlighted that misinformation could be contributing to the increase in individuals being apprehended at the border.

Human smugglers were also exploiting social media platforms, particularly Facebook, as revealed by an NBC News report from 2021. These smugglers used social media to connect with migrants and spread false hopes of reaching their desired destinations. The Department of Homeland Security acknowledged the role of smugglers’ misinformation in contributing to the recent surge at the border.

But if this is being fuelled by misinformation, is anyone looking to see if the relavent accounts are administered from far outside the region? Perhaps, by a third party that has an interest in inflaming the situation on both sides of the US-Mexico border?

It’s entirely possible this is organic activity, and awareness, even of innaccurate information, grows with the adoption of new technology, providing migrants more flawed visibility on their forward journey.

But given how contested the geopolitcal situation is elsewhere for the US – isn’t it worth someone looking to see if an outside power has a disruptive role in this affair?

(photo: CC Amyyfory)

The Kremlintarian tendency of American libertarians

A while ago, I wrote about what appears to be a rhetorical alignment between Western libertarians and the Kremlin’s messaging. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the divide between East and West regarding libertarianism has become more evident. In some European libertarian circles, those who adopt such views are derogatorily referred to as “Kremlintarians.” It prompts the question: why do Western libertarians hold foreign policy positions that echo those of the Kremlin?

For more insights into this issue, you can read an article on The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

Europe’s first mover advantage in regulating US tech

The European Union (EU) is setting landmark regulations for social media and tech platforms to protect user privacy and promote transparency. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in 2018, giving users more control over their personal data. This month, the EU agreed on the Digital Services Act (DSA) to frame rules for Very Large Online Platforms and Search Engines to protect users and require platforms to provide clear information.

In contrast, the US has yet to pass comprehensive legislation in response to 2016 social media interference. Political gridlock and intense lobbying efforts by Silicon Valley firms have hindered progress. Political polarization between Republicans and Democrats further complicates the issue. Republicans worry about censorship and bias, while Democrats worry about privacy and the spread of misinformation.

Even though Silicon Valley seemingly benefits from the lack of regulation in the short term, the US as a whole will suffer in the long term. Without clear rules and standards, tech companies make it up as they go along and self-regulate, leading to abuses of power and harm to consumers. Moreover, as Europe sets the regulation standards, it is becoming the de facto leader in regulating US-made technology, with the GDPR already having a global impact. With the DSA agreed, Europe gets closer to cementing its position as the global leader in tech regulation.

As a result, the independence of US technology may fall under the sway of its European partners in the future. American companies will be forced to comply with European regulations if they want to do business in the region, which could have ripple effects around the world.

This is yet another way in which political dysfunction is setting back the United States. Without a coherent national strategy for tech regulation, the US risks falling behind other countries in terms of innovation, consumer protection, and global competitiveness. As Europe takes the lead in regulating technology, it is time for the US to take action before it is too late.

The case against Douglass Mackey aka “Ricky Vaughn”

Douglass Mackey, once known as “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, has been charged in US federal court with conspiring with others to use social media platforms to spread misinformation during the 2016 Presidential Election with the intent of suppressing citizens’ right to vote.

Basically, Mackey was one of the most prolific trolls in the election, getting more traction than many organisations. Here is the US federal complaint, being argued in court in New York.

This is a key test case of the limits of “free speech” in the era of social media.