TTP Study: Migrants’ Lived Experiences of Dangerous Online Misinformation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 27, 2022
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a study documenting how migrants seeking to travel to the United States feel they have no choice but to wade through the rampant and dangerous misinformation on social media platforms in order to escape violence or extreme poverty. This report is the first in a TTP series that will explore how information online affects the lived experience of migrants in the real world.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Around the world, Meta’s platforms provide information that people use to make some of the most important decisions of their lives. By talking with real people in the process of making those decisions, this study takes the consequences of misinformation beyond shares and likes and dives into the real human experiences of Meta’s moderation failures.”
TTP assembled a team of interviewers that spoke with 200 migrants—half of them in Guatemala at the beginning of their journey northward and half in shelters just south of the U.S.-Mexico border. TTP interviewers asked migrants about how they accessed information, the sources they used and trusted the most, and how rumors or misinformation affected their lives. The interviewers also asked migrants to name specific social media accounts, pages, or groups that they followed.
TTP found that migrants depend heavily on Facebook and WhatsApp for guidance about how to get to the U.S. Many said they used the apps to communicate with other migrants or with social service organizations in receiving communities. Others had used the platforms to connect with “coyotes,” or smugglers who help undocumented migrants travel to the U.S.
Many migrants also embraced false claims made online, like the belief that the borders are open now that the Covid pandemic has eased, or that pregnant women were allowed to enter the U.S. without documentation. Others expressed a general sense that migration was “easier” now—a sentiment not supported by official statistics or other measures.
TTP analysts were often able to identify the origins of these rumors in the Facebook pages, WhatsApp groups, and other social media that migrants told interviewers they relied on for information. On Facebook and WhatsApp, TTP found dozens of false and misleading posts about changes to immigration policy, special rules for parents and pregnant women, or favorable conditions along the migration route.
Many migrants expressed frustration that it was impossible to discern fact from misinformation online. One respondent told an interviewer that “everyone lies or manipulates information.” But many also told interviewers they feel that they have no choice but to trust what they read and hear on social media.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Meta’s market dominance in South and Central America is so ubiquitous that for many, its services are synonymous with the internet. Migrants we spoke to are well aware of the dangerous misinformation that exists on these platforms, but the lack of options leaves them with no choice but to rely on what they see on Facebook and WhatsApp—which in many cases has led to real harm.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.