How Social Media Algorithms Change Migration Dynamics from the Maghreb
Migration from North African countries like Morocco has been a long tradition spanning decades, particularly to Europe. While once open and organised, increasing restrictions have made the journey more difficult. This clampdown hasn’t stopped movement; journeys have become more clandestine, and forced those leaving to adapt to the changing times. Social media inevitably plays a role in sharing information but experts now say the networks are changing migration dynamics and not just facilitating it through communication.
They say, it is on sites like YouTube, Facebook and other live streaming platforms that have become popular with video bloggers from Morocco and Algeria, where algorithms are pointing users to content and helping to propel this trend. ”Migration generally is very popular online. And there are some who are better at sharing that information than others, making it interesting, sexy and entertaining”, says Amine Ghoulidi, a King’s College researcher who looks at social media phenomenon. As internet uptake has increased in Morocco, so has the number of video bloggers using video platforms and social media networks. As many of these users decide to migrate, not always legally, they have documented their journeys.
With increasing numbers of vloggers, an ecosystem is emerging where information on migration is being shared and expanded giving people the tools to then embark on their own journeys from North Africa. This trend in videos has seemingly emerged from Morocco, but the shared dialect between countries in the region has made them popular with viewers from other Maghreb countries like Algeria. Now videos are appearing from Algerian vloggers and destinations have moved beyond Europe to South America.
Despite intensifying methods to stop people migrating, including through illegal and deadly pushbacks, more people, and even whole family units continue to move using irregular means. In 2016, European and Balkan nations intercepted 12,482 Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and Libyans, and 31,171 by 2018.
In tandem, more of the region is online — 64 percent of Moroccans, 67 percent of Tunisians and 58 percent of Algerians, according to 2020 data, with an average Moroccan spending more than three hours surfing the web daily. Each internet user has an average of 5.5 social media accounts each.
This evolving consumption of information has enabled social media to be a space within which smugglers operate. Countries like Algeria have acknowledged social media’s part in smuggling operations, although experts say its role is somewhat overlooked in policy responses. ”Social media breaks down barriers in access to information on migration routes, methods, and contact with smugglers”, Dr. Matt Herbert from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime told Fanack, ”detailed information and answers to questions on how to irregularly migrate are easily available to anyone with a smartphone, making it far easier for up to date information on migration and smuggling to diffuse through North African societies”.
The new class of vloggers, however, isn’t soliciting passengers for smuggling operations but sharing their lives, from pranks to mundane everyday occurrences and stories of their dating life. Ultimately, information on migration is profoundly popular, say researchers, which is buoyed by monetisation, such as video ad revenue, referrals and donations.
“Didi” is one such popular vlogger, hailing from the north Morocco city of Meknes, he documented his daily goings on, going to school and spent days avoiding run-ins with the police. Ending up in Sweden, we see videos of his friend helping him navigate life in the country; but he also shares his daunting journey from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, and can watch him point to where in a truck you should hide to survive getting into Europe.
Many families blamed his videos for enticing their children to leave Morocco, but he has denied ever wanting to do that.
Methods of hiding and evading authorities are common in videos from many of these Maghreb vloggers and the level of depiction and advice is further expanded on via comments under the video, even on a granular level of who to call when you get to a city. There have also been offers of help, money and accommodation through viewers’ relatives. Another blogger, ”Zizou”, has been traversing the South American continent for more than a year and became popular for his entertainment value and honest portrayal of living under the radar. One particularly engaging video racked upwards of one million views for harrowing footage showing how one fellow traveller died crossing the Columbian jungle into Panama.
Fanack spoke to Zizou at the end of 2019 and he emphasised how he tells his viewers not to follow him, ”I don’t know how I got through that journey, maybe through the prayers of my family”. ”This unfiltered and uncensored space is perhaps explanatory to the shift from simply consuming information from two to three state-owned TV channels and radios, and, furthermore, because algorithms can point you toward the type of information that interests you”, says Ghoulidi.
It’s the algorithms, however, that have the potential to introduce someone to the prospect of illegal migration. ”Information on irregular migration might be unsolicited but in the course of following these video blogs they might drop further nuggets of information, perhaps mentioning that they did not come to a city because of automatic checks, and then suddenly your migrational operational IQ gets upgraded”, says Ghoulidi.
Entrepreneurial and full of charisma, the question arises as to why these vloggers and those that potentially follow them leave in the first place. Morocco’s youth makes up around a third of its population but a third of them are not in employment, training or education; and they contribute to 80 percent of the country’s unemployment. According to the Borgen Project, almost 19 percent of Moroccans live on less than 4 dollars per day. Despite gains in tackling poverty overall in the country, income inequalities abound.
In Algeria, the youth bulge presents a challenge for employability among under 30s and nearly half of Tunisia’s population are under 25, more than 35 percent of them unemployed. Even for degree holders, the employment rate among them is around 25 percent. Among a stark economic picture, it’s not surprising that remittances had increased to the region in recent years, and that more young people have expressed a desire to leave.
“If you are 24 or 23, you have no job, you have no life, and you see that you’re losing time and your life for nothing, then you think ’why don’t I look for another life in another country?'” says Zizou. It could be that social media is simply accelerating the dynamics already in play.
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