Social media and shifting perspectives on security challenges to migration and human trafficking
Is there a role social media can play in shifting perspectives on security challenges and approaches to migrant smuggling and human-trafficking in North Africa? Such a question, I suggest, is becoming more relevant because security perspectives and policies, particularly in the context of migration, are taking shape in a climate of anti-immigration sentiment, racism and xenophobia, which feeds into the securitisation of the humanitarian crisis around North African migration.
So far, most approaches have neglected to address social media. For example, in 2014, a report from the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons pointed that Morocco’s legal framework needed to be clarified to ensure that irregular Sub-Saharan migrants would not be vulnerable to human traffickers. Amendments to the penal code were made in 2016 (law 27-14) introducing the definition of Trafficking in persons into the Moroccan legislation. Members of the judiciary were trained and a number of trafficking networks were allegedly dismantled in 2017. In 2014, EU-funded reforms were implemented to encourage Sub-Saharan migrants to stay in Morocco, allowing them to apply for year-long renewable residency permits.
Over the last five years, government representatives referred to these reforms as an example of good practice in fighting human trafficking and the management of irregular migration. Simultaneously, human rights advocates have contested the raids carried out by the Moroccan police and the Royal Gendarmerie in the cities surrounding the borders with the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla. In July 2018, Amnesty International reported 5,000 people had been deported in remote areas in the region of southern city of Dakhla and eastern city of Oujda, where Sub-Saharan migrants enter the country. The question remains as to whether deported migrants are not becoming more dependent on human traffickers as a result of these measures.
As suggested by a recent study published by the Institute for Security Studies (2019), a new generation of Moroccan YouTubers and influencers has gained popularity on social media by delivering content on irregular migration to Europe. These communication channels are accessible for free and provide information in the local dialect to help potential migrants reach Europe from North Africa while circumventing established networks of smugglers.
Other research suggests that these online networks communicate a romanticised and often idealised representation of Europe that build the prestige and popularity of these influencers. This argument has been emphasised to suggest that these networks should be surveyed, monitored and potentially censored.
Yet it is crucial to study these dynamics from a sociological perspective in order to understand how the different socioeconomic drivers of migration play out and how they overlap. Most importantly, one should consider the fact that communication flows that emerge organically within communities of migrants can be channelled to discuss human trafficking and smuggling with the audiences at risk. Information circulating within these networks has potentially more reach and credibility than institutionalised EU-funded platforms like InfoMigrants.
Analysing these new media practices from a sociological perspective would contribute to develop policy recommendations towards an alternative to the securitisation of migration in North Africa. Indeed, as I show in ongoing research, alternative approaches can be explored by studying the role that social media can play in raising awareness about human trafficking in transit countries wile informing migrants about the realities of migration.