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)