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Misinformation Can Negatively Impact Migrants and Fact-Checking Is the Solution

Khadija Boufous Khadija Boufous
6th March 2023
Misinformation Can Negatively Impact Migrants and Fact-Checking Is the Solution
Misinformation can trigger hate speech content targeting migrants (Getty)

Following Tunisia’s President Kais Saied’s remarks about sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia, whom he accused of causing a wave of crime and the possibilities of changing the country’s demographic makeup, a wave of hate speech and misinformation proliferated.

Although several African countries have launched repatriation schemes after President Saied launched a crackdown against undocumented sub-Saharan nationals, misinformation is still spreading.

Earlier, misleading and bullying content attacking the sub-Saharan migrants showed up on Moroccan and Egyptian social media pages and groups.

“My Nightmare in Tunisia:” Misinformation Amid Migratory Issues

News websites and social media accounts have stated that 700,000 sub-Saharan Africans were in Tunisia. However, Misbar’s Arabic team fact-checked the posts and found that local NGOs in Tunisia have estimated these migrants number between 30,000 and 50,000, according to a recent report published in Le Monde newspaper.

The Tunisian Statistical Institute on Migration has revealed that the number of migrants in Tunisia, in general, was approximately 58,000 and that more than 21,000 of them are sub-Saharan Africans.

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Misleading videos and visuals were also shared online, targeting sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia. An old clip was shared recently with claims that the footage shows clashes between sub-Saharan Africans and Moroccan citizens after harassing a Moroccan girl in the street.

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Misbar’s Arabic team has investigated the claim and found it to be misleading. The video is old and dates back to 2017. A news website mentioned that rumors caused the clashes in Casablanca, Morocco. However, according to other specialists, the confrontations were caused by a Guinean migrant who harassed a woman in front of people.

Other users shared videos misleadingly purporting to show sub-Saharan Africans threatening North African countries with destruction. Meanwhile, pages posted scenes claiming to show migrants calling for settlement and militarization in Tunisia. However, none of these videos were recent. The clips were miscaptioned and shared in a misleading context.

Hate Speech Targeting Sub-Saharan Migrants

These claims surfaced amid a campaign in Morocco that recently emerged against Moroccan women marrying sub-Saharan Africans. Following this campaign, social media users and pages have circulated content calling for “the Moroccan identity preservation.” A hashtag also appeared on Twitter and Facebook saying “#No_to_settlement_of_Africans_in_Morocco.”

Similarly, in Egypt, posts surfaced on social media warning of an alleged “African settlement” and African centralism (Afrocentric) using the hashtags: #Egyptian_nationalism and #Egyptian_identity. The pages sharing this content claimed the existence of a project by “black kings and queens to implement the Afrocentric plan, to establish a national home for Africans in Egypt and North Africa.”

How Does Misinformation Impact Migrants?

Sub-Saharan African migrants, as any other migrants, may be targeted by misinformation and hate speech on many levels. Other migrants may fall prey to harmful content that can easily affect their social and economic life. 

Sometimes, people think that misinformation can only affect migrants on the economic level. However, misinformation might also affect their mental health, integrity, and understanding of the migration contexts. 

According to Chris, who works as a migration assistant in Australia, and whose name was changed for protection purposes, some materialistic agents spread rumors on social media and use phishing and scam techniques based on fake migration opportunities to ask people to start applying for the opportunity and send an amount of money. “It is a loss of money, energy, and emotions,” Chris said. “The migrants end up losing money on wrong things or making bad choices due to misinformation,” he added.

Regarding the social impact of misinformation, Rinas decided one day to escape critical life circumstances in Syria, left for Lebanon, and then to Turkey, where he applied for a scholarship to study in Canada. He later applied for the asylum title when he arrived. 

Rinas told Misbar that misinformation affects his social integration because of the image that some media outlets promote about migrants. For Rinas, misinformation creates stereotypes, which trigger a misrecognition that harms a migrant's self-acceptance.

Misinformation Sources Targeting Migrants

Halima El Joundi, a Moroccan media expert and writer, says misinformation is not new. “For thousands of years, what is ‘fake’ and what is not was dictated by those in power with rarely any form of checks and balances in place,” she asserted.

In times of crisis, according to our expert, misinformation was instrumental in sustaining social order and equally used for maintaining peace or waging wars. And now, in these post-postmodern times, things have changed. Thanks to the internet, people became producers of their rights and equally capable of mass deceit with or without intent, she told Misbar.

Migration became one of the most polarizing issues. People consider migration to be a threat to an exclusive and allegedly superior identity that has to stay untarnished by foreignness and thereby “should be protected, and see it – migration – as competition on resources and opportunities “only” natives are entitled to, because.. they were there first,” she asserted.

According to the media expert, the prospect of losing an advantage or a privilege fuels the migration-related narratives and keeps them “burning.” 

For Halima El Joundi, it was safe to say that misleading content will spread faster during times of crisis because there was an agenda behind it or, heinous as it sounds, it has a purpose, but “the world has changed, and new media know no seasons.” According to the expert, as long as there is a user with a keyboard somewhere ready to pull the trigger and upload their content, there is a potential for this piece of “information” to become a “trending fact,” or as they call it nowadays, to go “viral.”

As the new technologies use increases, for Rasha Faek, a Syrian fact-checker, social media platforms play a key role in spreading misinformation and fake narratives about migrants as it allows everyone to post without offering enough guidelines on verification and clear differences between accurate news and opinions. Unfortunately, some media outlets repost from social media without considering fundamental elements of fact-checking, Rasha Faek said.

For Ms. Faek, Misinformation spreads like fire and badly affects the migrant’s situation as it proves negative stereotypes. 

Social Media and Migration-Related Misinformation

“With the emergence of Web 2.0 communication technologies in the mid 2000s, the internet has been reintroduced. It became an open-source platform where a user can generate content and produce an environment of convergence, participation and collective intelligence,” Halima El Joundi told Misbar

The conventional status of a submissive consumer and a passive audience has changed. People became, either intentional, or not, distributors of ideas and transporters of information.

According to Halima El Joundi, roles changed and brought a new “cultural disorder.” Social media, through which audiences are active, are vulnerable platforms where interactions are integrated with the message by default, resulting in a participatory form of control and a state of deindividuation. “It is this ‘noise’ that usually leads to fake news,” she said.

“Social networks need to be more socially responsible, curb their greed and introduce internet safety measures that protect vulnerable groups against cyberviolence in all its forms, including hate speech and misinformation,” she concluded. However, this move will only scratch the surface of the issue since social media platforms were made in such a way that makes “misleading,” even unintentional, an omnipresent threat through integrative “Noise” that produces a participatory form of control, mutually exposing the users to a gradual process of deindividuation inevitably impacting opinion and behavior.

For the expert, countering misleading narratives about migration is the responsibility of the users themselves, and only responsible and conscientious digital citizens can stop the snowball. Moreover, the only cure to misinformation is education, developing critical thinking, and being self-accountable.

For fact-checker Rasha Faek, fact-checking should be a priority for everyone, including the audience. “Nothing should be taken for granted,” and everything should be checked and verified. Meanwhile, media literacy is also crucial. 

As misinformation can also impact the journalism reporting on migration-related issues, Houssam Elaboody, a migration reporter and investigative journalist, told Misbar that a 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.

For Mr. Elaboody, the journalist must be aware of the importance of his story and predict the consequences of publishing it. Every journalist should also ask themselves if their story can be used to promote a particular issue or policy before the publishing decision.

Misbar’s Sources:

Africa News

Al Jazeera

Tunisian Statistical Institute