Sunday, 04 Dec 2022

Revealed: how coyotes and scammers use TikTok to sell migrants the American dream

Revealed: how coyotes and scammers use TikTok to sell migrants the American dream


Revealed: how coyotes and scammers use TikTok to sell migrants the American dream

The TikTok video starts like most other travel snaps on the platform do, with selfie shots showing the user* and his companions sitting on a plane and walking through the airport.

Some of the posts, like the one from the user from Ecuador, appear to be from people documenting their own migrant journeys. But many purport to offer services and advice for people seeking to immigrate from countries including Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador and Honduras.

The posts offering services are usually simple. They often include hazy footage of a journey or a US cityscape, typically overlaid with a message that seeks to assure users the service is not a scam. Some posts go as far as to show videos and pictures of people who have supposedly successfully crossed with the help of those behind the account.

Quantifying the proliferation of these type of posts on TikTok is difficult because the platform does not provide external tools that allow researchers to audit or analyze its data, unlike companies like Twitter and Meta.

The Guardian shared eight examples of posts advertising services to ferry people across the border and Obi-Okoye said the company took them down. Still, dozens of similar videos pop up when searching for these terms, including some that were posted in the last week.

The videos the Guardian reviewed show that TikTok has started to play a more critical role in the spread of posts targeting migrants than what researchers initially observed.

But TikTok, which has more than 1 billion monthly active users globally, has exploded in Latin America in the last four years. Recent estimates from market research firm eMarketer indicate the platform surpassed 100 million users in Latin America, making it the third largest social network in the region after Instagram and Facebook.

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