The Migration-related Misinformation and Its Effects on Migrants

Author: Khadija Boufous / Photo Credit: IOM
As the new technologies use increases, the misinformation flow grows and becomes more powerful and unstoppable. Misinformation can not be defeated by limited groups of fact-checkers as hundreds of thousands of claims are generated and circulated online every day.
Media experts agreed that it is easy to generate misleading and false claims. According to communication experts, it is simple and easy for any user to create falsehoods with altered visual materials, a fake author, a fake URL, and a legitimate-looking website. The “Fake News” generators usually spread misinformation to attract people or convince them to believe in some story or viral material, including audio and visual content. 

Who Spreads Misinformation?

Misinformation has often emerged in the middle of conflicts and crises and focused on others’ misunderstanding of facts and contexts. However, misleading narratives pop up from nowhere since ordinary internet users can unintentionally and accidentally spread false claims based on their lack of understanding. 
Governments, lobbies, companies, and distinct organizations could also spread misinformation to serve their agendas and convince people of their strategies and beliefs. Misleading social media content gets more likely to be shared because of confirmation bias. Although some content may be shocking or unexpected, misinformation could be widely spread using psychological factors and stimulating users’ emotions, especially during a crisis where everyone fears the future. 
With the rise of visual and audio deepfakes, automated bots were caught spreading falsehoods, fake photos of people who never existed, and videos simulating real-life movements and voices. Artificial intelligence has made significant achievements recently but has also contributed to the spread of misinformation using Emotional Analysis techniques to reduce the gaps that may help distinguish the false from the accurate content.
Unfortunately, media outlets can also spread misinformation while reposting content from social media without considering fact-checking elements and sources intersection. And this can be even worse since these media outlets are intended and expected to be trustworthy and credible. 
Other misinformation generators spread misinformation to gain more followers by posting “exclusive false gossip” and altered celebrities’ photos. As some false stories could be successful clickbait, advertisers became concerned with making their advertising seen on the popular and most visited websites. Meanwhile, others may generate misleading but attractive content to make more money by running ads and focusing on attracting a large audience. 
Social media companies have been criticized on many occasions because of their “insufficient misinformation policies.” Some platforms help satirical and “Fake News” websites by providing more visitors and interactions. Sharing the claims on social media can help make the false information seen by more and different types of users. 
Misinformation can target different internet users, including people who lack understanding of current issues and those without strong critical reading and thinking skills. The misinformation harm can be irresistible for vulnerable receivers going through difficult circumstances like migrants. 
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How Does Misinformation Impact Migrants?

People think that misinformation can only affect migrants on the economic level. However, the misleading news and information that migrants receive every day might also affect their mental health, integrity, and understanding of the migration contexts.
Rinas Melli decided to migrate to escape political persecution in Syria. He left his country for Lebanon and then moved to Turkey, where he applied for a scholarship to study, which allowed him to take a visa and apply for asylum when he arrived in Canada.
Regarding migration-related information, Mr. Melli told us that he ignores every misleading narrative. However, he admitted that this type of misinformation affects his social integration because of the image that some media promotes about migrants. According to Mr. Melli, these stereotypes create a misrecognition that harms their self- acceptance. On the economic level, Jon, whose name has been changed for protection purposes, works as a migration assistant in Australia. He told us that some materialistic agents spread rumors on social media pages and scam people with fake migration opportunities and then ask people to hurry up and start the application, including sending some amount of money. 
It’s a loss of money. Energy and emotions are at stake. Sometimes it is their dream to migrate to another country and become a permanent residents. But they end up losing money on wrong things or making bad choices due to fake news,” Jon asserted.

Misinformation and Reporting on Migration

Misinformation not just impacts migrants. It also affects journalism ethics and reporting on migration. According to Houssam Elaboody, a migration reporter and investigative journalist, misinformation has many sources and could be spread from governmental sources promoting false or inaccurate information. For Mr. Elaboody, the journalist reporting on migration should be able to make a difference between official sources, human sources, and eyewitnesses and apply the intersection of sources rule.
“The journalist must be aware of the importance of his story and predict the consequences of publishing it,” Mr. Elaboody told us. “Journalists should also ask themselves if their story can be used to promote a particular issue or policy,” he added.
According to Mr. Elaboody, posting inaccurate information online affects public opinion and directs it towards specific issues and stereotypes. But sources diversification and intersection can help eliminate misleading narratives. For him, it is clear that any undocumented migration story can harm migrants and may cause the enactment of strict laws that negatively affect migration reporting.
We contacted Mr. Salahedddine Lemaizi, a Moroccan journalist focusing on reporting on migration and refugee issues, and The Moroccan Network of Migration Journalists' founder. Migration-related misinformation starts on social media platforms and then spreads everywhere using other techniques, according to Mr. Lemaizi. “Some users may leave racist comments on certain posts, and people with misconceptions about some communities may also do so,” he mentioned.
For our expert, some specific groups can share ideological narratives based on fake news on social media platforms, which can directly affect the migrant. “The effect is serious, the migrant is being stigmatized and stereotyped, and the local population is irritated and terrorized. It might also cause violence and even death, as happened recently in the wave of migration to Ceuta in May 2021,” Mr. Lemaizi added.
According to Salaheddine Lemaizi, journalists are part of the migration-related misinformation process. “The misinformation flow could be limited if it is quickly verified and debunked, and therefore the effects can be reduced,” the expert confirmed.

Critical Thinking and Fact-checking Are Part of the Remedy

Finding the perfect solution for migration-related misinformation may be complicated and intricate. The remedy becomes a joint responsibility of global citizens, governments, companies, and social media platforms. According to Halima El Joundi, a Moroccan social media specialist, social platforms need to be more socially responsible, curb their greed, and introduce internet safety measures that protect vulnerable groups against cyber violence, including hate speech and misinformation. 
“The problem will always be there as social media platforms were designed in a way that makes ‘misleading,’ even unintentionally, an omnipresent threat through integrative noise which produces a participatory form of control, mutually exposing the users to a gradual process of deindividuation that impacts their opinion and behavior,” our expert explained.  
“Combatting misleading narratives about migration and other current issues related to injustices in our world is literally between the hands of the users themselves. Only alert, responsible and conscientious digital citizens can stop the snowball,” she added. 
According to our media expert, the only cure to misinformation is education, developing critical thinking, and being self-accountable.
For Rasha Faek, a Syrian fact-checker and consultant trainer at Arab Fact-Checkers Network, fact-checking should be a priority for everyone, including the audience. She confirmed that media literacy is very crucial. “Once the reader spots a suspicious piece of content, they should look into the creator or the author and question their reputation.”
The fact-checker asserted that nothing should be taken for granted. “Everything has to be checked and verified, mainly when it affects others' lives and futures like migrants and refugees who are pushed out of their countries and strive for a better life in new lands,” Ms. Faek concluded.

Khadija Boufous

Journalist freelancer and writer
Khadija Boufous is a Moroccan journalist and fact-checker at Misbar. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Communication from l’Institut Supérieur de l’Information et de la Communication (ISIC) in Rabat. She is currently studying for her Master of Political and Social Communication at ISIC.
Khadija previously worked as a freelance writer and has published articles on various websites and newspapers. She also interned at many Moroccan media and communication institutions and has participated in a Journalism Exchange in Melbourne, Australia, in addition to a range of data journalism, cybersecurity, and TV presenting workshops