‘Unchecked’ social media platforms fueling migration crisis on border, industry experts say

Immigration

Human trafficking routes, modes of transit, prices, and even discounts freely promoted on Facebook sites, report finds

FILE- In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. Days before Germany’s federal elections, Facebook removed a network of accounts that it said had spread COVID-19 misinformation and encouraged violent responses to COVID restrictions. The crackdown, announced Sept. 16, 2021, was the first use of Facebook’s new “coordinated social harm” policy aimed at stopping not state-sponsored disinformation campaigns but otherwise typical users who have mounted an increasingly sophisticated effort to sidestep rules on hate speech or misinformation. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms, like Facebook, encourage illegal migration to the United States as well as promote and illicit hatred toward migrants, cybersecurity and migration experts who are calling on Congress to better regulate the industry say.

Criticism toward social media platforms increased Monday following a “60 Minutes” report about a whistleblower and former Facebook employee who copied thousands of pages of documents that she says proves the company put its financial interest over protecting society from harmful misinformation and misleading information in order to make a bigger profit.

In this Sept. 16, 2021, photo provided by CBS, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen talks with CBS’ Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes,” in an episode that aired Sunday, Oct. 3. (Robert Fortunato/CBS News/60 Minutes via AP)

In a call with media Monday put on by the Immigration Hub, several industry experts said Facebook, in particular, can and should do more to patrol its platform. They said Facebook needs to remove hateful disinformation and posts that are intolerant about asylum seekers, as well as ban groups that target migrants and vulnerable populations and encourage them to illegally migrate to the United States.

“What we’re seeing with Latin America and this massive surge of migrants at the border is very closely tied to the amplification of human smuggling opportunities on social media. We’re also seeing this targeting Haitian migrants,” said Katie Paul, director of Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit collaborative research and watchdog initiative aimed at the tech industry.

“This is not just encouraging people to travel to the U.S. or to Mexico, but lots of misinformation that is also going unchecked on the platform being amplified and encouraging people that if they go to the U.S.,” Paul said.

The platforms basically supply free advertising for human traffickers, Paul said. There even are Facebook groups set up by human smugglers. One such Spanish group is called Immigrant Caravan 2021, she said.

“On Facebook, it’s so prevalent that we’re even seeing human smugglers offer discounts for children and for women who are traveling alone,” Paul said.

Migrants wearing wristbands supplied by human smuggling operations are seen on April 8, 2021, in La Joya, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

In April, the Tech Transparency Project published a report, “Facebook Teems with Human Smugglers Luring Migrants,” that attributed Facebook’s algorithm — which regulates what content users see — to promoting human smuggling on its platform.

The report found 50 Facebook pages offering illegal border crossings “with no enforcement from Facebook,” according to the report.

The report also cited Facebook’s pop-up Messenger window with providing an easy way to contact administrators of human smuggling pages, which are usually done through WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, or direct messaging.

One group created on Nov. 16, 2020, called “EMIGRANTE DE VARIOS PAISES EN MÉXICO” (“Immigrants from various countries in Mexico”) had amassed over 230,000 members as of April 7, the report found.

Source: Tech Transparency Project report April 2021

Another report published by the organization in June, “Human Smuggling Rampant on Facebook Amid Border Surge,” found “human smugglers often show routes, modes of transit, prices, and even discount options to potential customers on Facebook. Many spread misinformation about migrants’ ability to enter the U.S., promising easy and fast asylum. This feeds the false hope on the part of many migrants that they’ll be released by U.S. Border Patrol rather than sent back to Mexico.”

In response to a question from Border Report, Paul explained that in many Latin American countries — including the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — Facebook controls free internet service by offering it through its app, and that encourages users to its site.

“Now that we know what the Facebook whistleblower has said it’s clear they were not only facilitating this type of trafficking but based on the whistleblower documents, they were knowingly profiting from it,” Paul said Monday.

“The fact that these smugglers exist and they can be successful in these platforms is because they are operating on a platform that migrants are being told it’s safe and easy to enter the U.S.,” said Kelsey Suter, vice president of GQR, a political research and consulting firm.

Migrants, mostly Haitians, are seen on Sept. 17, 2021, camping under the Del Rio International Bridge in remote Del Rio, Texas, where they tried to claim asylum in the United States. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Sutter said there is an exceptionally high amount of information released in Creole on YouTube encouraging irregular migration to the United States.

Last month, over 16,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, camped under the Del Rio International Bridge in remote South Texas believing they could claim asylum in the United States. Now there are concerns that an additional 60,000 more Haitians could be heading north through Panama en route to the United States.

Internal documents published by the Wall Street Journal also allege the company was aware of how Instagram adversely affects the mental health of millions of teenage girls.

Facebook issued a lengthy statement defending the company’s actions and saying it employs thousands of workers to help peruse content and safeguard the public.

“We’ve invested heavily in people and technology to keep our platform safe, and have made fighting misinformation and providing authoritative information a priority,” Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of policy communications, said Sunday.

Laura Edelson, co-director of the nonprofit Cybersecurity for Democracy, who testified last week before Congress on the need to increase tech transparency said the following needs to happen:

  • Facebook needs to make its information on public content available to researchers for study.
  • Facebook needs to increase staff devoted to patrolling platform.
  • Congress needs to create comprehensive platform transparency by enacting enforceable laws.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.