Human smugglers often target migrants with misinformation on social media: watchdog

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Migrants reliant on Facebook and WhatsApp as they make the journey to the U.S. are being targeted with immigration misinformation by human smugglers, a new report found.

A study released Tuesday from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found “an abundance of posts spreading misinformation about immigration law, conditions along the route to the United States, and the opportunities available to migrants to the U.S.” through the Meta platforms. 

Migrants found smugglers promising easy entry into the U.S. via Facebook and WhatsApp, according to the report, with some saying they were instead robbed or left in dangerous circumstances by those they connected with.

The TTP interviewed 200 migrants at both the Mexico-Guatemala border and the U.S.-Mexico border, and found that many had bought into misinformation: that the easing COVID-19 pandemic meant borders had opened, that pregnant migrants could enter the country undocumented and that conditions on the route north were easier than in the past.

The report criticized the Meta platforms for not doing more to shield migrants from such misinformation.

“Our interviews with migrants and review of social media data show that the platforms—especially Facebook—are failing to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the world from misinformation that could defraud them, lead to deportation, or put their lives at risk,” the TTP wrote.

The TTP determined that some human rights groups were also using Facebook and WhatsApp to counter misinformation, but that those efforts were not always successful at breaking through strong misinformation campaigns.

The Hill has reached out to Meta platforms Facebook and WhatsApp for comment.

CNN was the first to report the study.

Last month, 53 migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were found dead in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, in a suspected human smuggling operation. 

President Biden called the San Antonio incident “ horrifying and heartbreaking” and said in a statement that it “underscores the need to go after the multi-billion dollar criminal smuggling industry preying on migrants and leading to far too many innocent deaths.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), along with other Republicans, blamed Biden’s “deadly open border policies” for the deaths, but the president pushed back against what he called “political grandstanding” from the party. 

In June, the White House announced a “sting operation” campaign led by the Department of Homeland Security aimed at taking down smuggling networks in Latin America. The administration reported it had invested $50 million and surged 1,300 personnel throughout the region to that end in the preceding two months.

Tags Biden administration Facebook Facebook Greg Abbott Guatemala immigration Joe Biden Meta Meta Mexico migrants misinformation misinformation San Antonio Social media US-Mexico border whatsapp WhatsApp

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