Immigration is one of the activities that human societies have practiced for centuries, but most recently, this activity has been associated with disinformation. Immigrants groups are now the target of disinformation campaigns by many actors who benefit from misleading them, jeopardizing their goal to seek shelter in another country and even their safety.
In July 2022, the tech transparency project released an analysis of interviews with immigrants about how they consume information. Those immigrants reported that they usually encounter information on Facebook posts and groups about the immigration routes to the U.S. and laws and opportunities. They also said that there were many circulated false claims, such as closing the borders and that Covid-19 had eased. The analysis also found dozen other false claims, such as the change in immigration policy and that pregnant parents will have special rules. Indeed those who believed in this misinformation were later detained and deported.
In some cases, disinformation may cause a big immigration crisis that is hard to be solved. In January 2022, two popular pages with thousands of followers were the primary source of spreading false promises that immigrants from Kurdistan on the Belarus-Poland border would be allowed into the European Union. Some immigrants even believed that buses were waiting to travel them to Germany. To counter this flow of disinformation, Facebook took down the two pages for violating its content policy. Moreover, a member of the Kurdistan region parliament started to use his official page to debunk rumors and share the correct facts. Haitians attempting to cross the border to the U.S. were also misled by the smugglers that the walls were open and the temporary protected status was active. This false information motivated them to take on a ten days journey through brazil; 6000 thousand of those immigrants were deported at the texas border.
Even after they reach their final destination, immigrants are still subjected to disinformation by different political and ideological groups; for instance, the Rohingyas who escaped the violence in Myanmar to find a secured shelter in India are continuously a target both by locals on social media and TV channels, falsely accusing them of crimes such child-lifting, and other crimes such as murder, robbery, and cow slaughter, Ukrainian who fled from the war also faced a similar disinformation campaign in Poland, they were portrayed by far-right groups and other known fake news sites having privileges over citizens and that crimes and aggressive refugee are on the rise. In the U.S., there were also similar cases inside the U.S. for disinformation content that misled immigrants who successfully crossed the border, claiming that they were receiving hou,sing medical and food assistance, but fact-checking organizations debunked these claimants were relocated to Macedonian were also targeted by nationalists who circulated misinformation that they were here to replace citizens with Muslims.
But immigration disinformation is not not only about immigrants. The policies around immigration itself have been a target of many malicious actors, who attempt to twist the fact and influence public opinion towards their anti-immigration stance, In the U.S., there is a considerable amount of disinformation about the immigration policy, claiming that the democrats are endorsing the open borders to wants migrants to vote for them, or that millions of dollars are being wasted on unused borders materials, or that the rise in the number of encounters due to change in borders policy, the releasing policy of immigrants entering the country has also been a subject of disinformation, numbers of those who don’t show up to court were exaggerated to mislead the public this policy does not work.
Most recently, some immigrants started to take legal action against the creators of the disinformation messages that harmed their lives, In September 2022, Three Venezuelan migrants sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who lured them to travel to Martha’s Vineyard, an island in Massachusetts state, the governor and his team are accused of attractingting the immigrants to travel on a plane, promising them they will be moved to Boston and will receive benefits such as McDonald’s gift cards, money in cash and hotel rooms, all these promises were utterly false.
We can fight back the immigration disinformation in many ways:
Telling personal immigrants’ stories: We can create a flow of correct information by letting immigrants share their actual lived experiences with others who did not start their journey with these stories. One of the successful projects in this direction is the infomigrants personal stories project. The shared stories tell the obstacles and challenges immigrants encounter both en route and after reaching their final destination.
Sharing facts: Immigration disinformation could be reduced by sharing facts with the public and making them widely accessible. This could be achieved through spreading digestible content or creating Lists of sources that expose the myths about immigrants.
Fact-Checking: Debunking fake news stories and misleading content about immigrants also helps. Known fact-checking organizations such as Politifact dedicated a section on their website dedicated to viral claims about immigration.
Researching the phenomenon: Analyzing and understanding how immigration disinformation works is a crucial step in designing strategies and tools to combat it, Teyit, a Turkish fact-checking website, in collaboration with the International fact-checking organization, launched a project that aims to study the fake news about immigration in Europe and to document it in a database that researchers and the public could access.
Regulating the disinformation content: creators of disinformation content, be they smugglers or politicians, should be held accountable, and tech platforms should world more on policies and hire more experienced moderators to track and remove the content that aims to mislead the immigrants, the disinformation governance board, which the current U.S. administration suggested, was supposed to be tasked with addressing this issue at the state level, but unfortunately, it was shut down.
Immigration disinformation is a complex issue. It should be addressed from many angles. Providing accurate sources of information will protect many from manipulations, save their lives, and protect society from many crises that may develop in the future.