Convoys of Hope or Digital Deception? Understanding How People-Smugglers Utilize Facebook
By Amanda Borquaye, under the supervision of Kim Wilson
“Our phones and power banks are more important for our journey than anything, even more important than food.” – Wael, a Syrian refugee
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have simultaneously empowered and imperiled migrants. The mobile phone revolutionized how migrants communicate with their networks, which are located in their countries of origin, their destination, or are scattered along the way. It also has transformed how people send and receive remittances. The mobile phone is often touted as an informational tool that fosters integration and resettlement in a new country. For migrants seeking advice about prospective routes, searching for travel companions, and attempting to locate the people who will facilitate their entry across a new border, digital platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp can serve as a one-stop destination for information. Migrants use their smartphones for real-time updates about their routes, tips on border guard movements, safe places to stay, and as a lifeline to update their loved ones. Though these platforms can provide information to help migrants have safe journeys, existing regulatory mechanisms leave them susceptible to nefarious online actors who utilize social media to exploit vulnerable migrants. Through Facebook, migrants have been deceived into embarking on perilous journeys, trafficked into false employment, and even had their ransom videos posted on the site.