Misinformation. Unsplash.com

"Mexican citizens can now enter the United States without a visa". This announcement, which appeared in social media such as TikTok and YouTube, is an illustrating example of the fact that misinformation has become widespread in these means of communication.

Other examples that circulated widely claimed that Biden had announced that Ecuadorian citizens could enter the United States legally through a new refugee program, and that people arriving at the U.S. border under Title 42 could not be deported. This video had over 17 million views on TikTok.

Misinformation can sometimes become a key factor in migrants' motivation to make their way to the U.S., as the dissemination of false reports create unrealistic expectations of what awaits at the end of usually long, peril-ridden journeys.

The announcement about Mexican citizens was made after news broke that Israel had joined the Visa Waiver Program. The creators of the video begin with the big news as a featured headline. Only later in the video do they explain that this is not the current reality, and that the Mexican government must control the flow of immigration into the United States.

Because immigration policy is complex and changes frequently depending on decisions made in Washington, it can be difficult for migrants to understand the legal process they must go through to come to the United States.

This can creates a climate of uncertainty and fear among immigrants, making them vulnerable to believing anything that gives them a glimmer of hope.

"Misinformative narratives often start on WhatsApp and are then supplemented and amplified by Instagram or Tik Tok, often taking advantage of any change in immigration policy to create a sense of urgency," according to a study by George Mason University.

"Professional misinformers become influencers by posing as experts on immigration law," the study adds.

Many of these misinformative video creators are linked to human smuggling networks and often use the networks to charge money by offering immigration advice or counseling.

Others use social media in a directly fraudulent manner, offering to arrange work visas, priority appointments near border ports of entry, or asylum facilitation. These schemes generally start on Instagram or TikTok and then move to WhatsApp, where they are contacted directly by scammers posing as experts or guides to take them to safe places to cross the border.

The Fraud Prevention Section of the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey processes the largest number of H-2A visas in the world. Work visa fraud alerts have increased 12% annually over the last 4 years, after WhatsApp was used to receive and give information.

Latintimes.com spoke with Erica, a Colombian immigrant who came through Mexicali a year and two months ago. Erica had a successful journey, but her brother was the target of a social media scam.

"My brother found out through a video on TikTok about an expert in Mexico who could drive him safely to a place where he could cross the border, he contacted him from Bogota, Colombia and received daily instructions via WhatsApp up," she added.

The scammer told him to buy a sightseeing tour from Mexico City to Baja California, and once there, through the Uber application, contact a driver who would take him directly and without stopping to Mexicali, where he was abandoned at a gas station after handing over $2,000," she said.

One study conducted by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found that most survey respondents relied on online sources for information about their journey or conditions in the U.S. Nearly all migrated with a smartphone or tablet at hand.

Nearly 70% of migrants say they regularly get information from Facebook, more than any other source. About a quarter of respondents said they also use WhatsApp, the messaging app owned by Facebook's parent company, Meta.

Respondents told interviewers that Facebook and WhatsApp connected them to scammers who stole their money, left them in unsafe conditions, or gave them wrong information.

Many migrants told TTP interviewers that they had heard misinformation about the ease of travel to the U.S. or special rules that would allow them to enter without documentation.

TTP's study found dubious offers of coyote or legal services, false claims about conditions along the route, misinformation about points of entry where officials would waive the rules, and unfounded rumors about changes in immigration law.

Facebook remained popular among migrants. Nearly a third of respondents saying they trusted the platform.

© 2023 Latin Times. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.