Russian social networks for children of refugees

In our blog we write about the different roles of social media. In this post I want to describe educational and protective roles of social media for children. Usually, Russia and Ukraine use identical social networks for adults. In connection with the well-known conflict it has led to the emergence of a large flow of misinformation and negative posts. To protect children from the effects of any ethnic conflicts for the last three years in Russia have began to develop rapidly closed groups for children in networks for parents (Facebook.com, VK.ru) and children’s social networks. For example, on Facebook, there are online libraries for refugees. The virtual libraries provide children’s books on the Ukrainian and Russian languages free of charge.
TASS photo
In another way have been created children’s social networks. The social networks exist outside of politics and commercial campaigns; do not require payment for registration. Children can be associated in groups with the same interests (sports, chemistry, mathematics, music), by age, favourite fairy tale hero, problems (for example, a problem with the Russian grammar). In the networks are conducted online creative competitions. That is, these networks bring together children; protect them of negative adults’ comments, reflect their interests.

Majority of the networks are educational and doing on the Russian language. For example, https://dnevnik.ru, http://www.tvidi.ru/, http://podruzhki.ru/.
However, these social networks allow you to create groups to communicate in any language. This allows children of Ukrainian refugees to unite and use their native language.
Parents have an opportunity to see their children’s accounts, but cannot change their content.
Thus, the function of social networks allows us to talk about their protective function.

Posted in Facebook, Russia, Social Media, Ukraine | Comments Off on Russian social networks for children of refugees

Refugees and smart phones. Are we asking the right questions?

Konstantinos Michaleas

A few months ago the influx of refugees has exponentially increased in Europe. One of the main questions that arose at the time, both in Greece and in other European countries, was “How come the Syrian refugees have smart phones?” This question drew a lot of publicity both in New Media and in traditional media as well.

The answer is quite simple and I would like to illuminate this topic and take it a bit further. Most of the refugees do have smart phones and it should not be strange to us all. First and foremost, mobile technology can be casually found all around the world since smart phone technology has become inexpensive and a low-end android smart phone costs roughly 100 euros, therefore a Syrian refugee family could afford a device. Moreover, data about the mobile penetration in Syria before the war shows that 84 out of 100 people had mobile phones.

Around mid September there were several articles written on both Greek and International media outlets regarding refugee phones, stating the obvious. Refugees have phones for the same reason people in High Income countries (HIC) have them and that is to communicate and to get informed. Communications is of paramount importance to them as they far away from home, in unknown territories and they want to keep in touch not only with their families back home but with other refugees as well trying to find a safe place to stay. Being informed is equally important, as through the use of Social Media they can get the latest information on safe passages, sources of heat and electricity, and several other information that could help them reach their destination.

So, the question people on Social Media, governments and NGOs should be asking is “How are refugees using their phones?”. It appears that refugees who seek asylum are often using Facebook as a tool to find their way around borders. There are Facebook pages, in Arabic, which offer information regarding the ease of passage from one country to another and often include the telephone numbers of smugglers who can “assist” in their endeavor. A characteristic example is a specific Facebook page, where information regarding a particular entry point in the Greek borders was posted. It is estimated that approximately 3.000 refugees got that information, either directly from the page or from re-postings, and attempted to cross from that point. However, the Turkish authorities were also monitoring social media and apprehended them just before they passed the borders.

There was an interesting backlash of a group of Twitter users who decided to oppose those who are being critical against refugees on the premise that they have mobile phones, therefore they have wealth. This group called Refugee Phones, are based in Sweden, and they assisting refugees by giving them smart phones which they collect from donations. This initiative relies a lot on social media to spread the word (#refugeephones).

The case of the refugee mobile phones is one of the many case were Social Media were used by and for the refugees. What we can get out of this example, is that Social Media acted as a participatory platform by and for the refugees but we also learned the digital data are being monitored and surveilled by governments. In addition, mobile technology was used as a tool for human mobility and the data can be of use for future cases, in order for humanitarian organizations to provide the needed help. All the big data that is gathered from the use of mobile phones could be put into good use for development, as policy makers can inform policy areas and governments along with NGOs could coordinate their efforts.

Posted in Greece, Social Media | 1 Comment

Social media for Ukrainian Refugees

In Russia the situation with refugees is considered from different points of views. The main theme is Ukrainian Asylum seekers and the second one is the European Refugees.
I will not describe the Russian point of view on the situation in Europe in my post. European experience with refugees from different countries will be represented in other posts. I would like to show the role of social media for Ukrainian refugees.

TASS photo

TASS photo

 

A first, I have to note that the Ukrainians don’t have language problems because the majority of the people speak on Russian fluently. This is an important moment it facilitates social inclusion in the new location. According to the Federal Migration Service at the beginning of December 2015, «in Russia there are more than 2.5 million citizens of Ukraine, more than 1.2 million of them – are residents of the south-eastern regions of the country.» (http://tass.ru/obschestvo/2539353 )
Social media have been chosen as the most effective connection between refugees and various funds, organizations and social communities.
The type of communications was used by many administrations of Russian regions.
My conclusions are based on analysis of the Russian-language social networks.
However, I also asked friends in Ukraine to search for specific media. They also tend to believe that the refugees don’t use the specialized media (media for Refugees in each Russian region), but prefer Russian resources for rapid adaptation in the society and professional communities. Most of the refugees from the Ukraine have relatives or close friends in Russia and usually use support of them.
However, according to Russian law, refugees have an advantage in employment and for getting medical services. Therefore, the most widespread among communities in social networks are groups with proposals vacancies.
For example, https://www.facebook.com/groups/krymskie.bejentsy/?fref=ts is the forum for Crimea refugees.
Such groups with keywords refugee (it is “bezhenec” or “pereselenec” in the Russian pronunciation) can be found in Russian Facebook more than 20. The maximum numbers of their followers are not more than 4,000.
Local Russian social networks play the important role for Ukrainians also. (vk.ru, odnoklassniki.ru etc.) For example, very popular group is https://vk.com/pomogiukraine. (Help to Ukraine)
Educational groups in social networks for Refugees also have a lot of followers (1,500-3,200).
Most of the educational programs in Russian, but Refugees have lower prices. The majority of official online media, government web-resources and social media are linked. Therefore, hitting a relevant group it will be easily find others and information about news and new rules and laws. There is also dating groups for refugees. It allows people to find new friends and communicate on the Ukrainian language.
Thus, social media play the unifying role, they help refugees’ integration into the new society and provide connection between the countries and cultures. «Online and offline for a need to be actively promoted to bring in larger and more diverse sections of community to discuss issues of common interest…” (Rao, M., p. 277)
However, in the most of the described social media groups I can find users with posts or links with an analysis of the political situation and specifically written for propaganda purposes of one of the countries. «New media may garner attention from outside actors, mobilizing political sympathy or hostility and creating new opportunities to generate power internally.» (Aday at al., p. 12)
Due to the information can attract attention and to influence on the readers’ opinions all information need to be verified.
However, this is type of the media, which allows refugees to draw attention to their problems.
They do it by analogy with the description of possibilities of social media in article of Shirky C.: ”In the most extreme cases, the use of social media tools is a matter of life and death, as with the proposed death sentence for the blogger Hossein Derakhshan in Iran (since commuted to 19 and a half years in prison) or the suspicious hanging death of Oleg Bebenin, the founder of the Belarusian opposition Web site Charter 97.” (Shirky, p. 7.)

References:
Aday at al. (2010), New media in contentious politics, BLOGS AND BULLETS.
Shirky, C. (2011) The political power of social media technology, the public sphere, and political change.
Rao, M. The information society: visions and realities in developing countries. Media and Glocal Change.

Posted in Facebook, Russia, Social Media, Ukraine | 3 Comments

Impacts of Social Media on Government Policies

In an article The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change, Shirky writes about the freedom of Internet, how the public sphere can use it to impact on national politics and how the governments are trying to control the debate to keep the control of the politics. Since the rise of the Internet the world population has expanded and the communication landscape gotten denser and more complex. The information on Internet and the debates on social media are accessible for wider and wider audience, involving regular citizens, activists, NGOs, governments and companies.  At the same time many of the political problems have become global and not possible to be solved in a national level. In the case of European refugee crises, where the information shared on Internet is available all over the world and including several holders, governments can’t undertake any actions to control the contents of the web. This has forced the governments to attend to the public debate online and use social media as a tool to manage their politics.

On September after officials in Finland realized they had been giving automatic asylum for people from some parts of Iraq unlike other European countries and the spread of the information on social media had created a mass movement of Iraqis entering the country, the government had to put on some actions. The Foreign Ministry put on hold all the asylum applications of Iraqis and Somalis until the legislation and country policies were reviewed and tightened. The message spread all over the Internet. Fifteen minutes after Ministry released their announcement it was translated in Arabic and shared on Facebook, faster than any global news agency was able to publish it. The power and visibility of social media was recognized in the Foreign Ministry as well, and in October it started a Facebook campaign in Iraq and Turkey to target the Iraqis planning their journey to Finland. The situation where the own citizens were not the thread to the national politics, but it rather came from the outside, the government had to enter the field as an actor among many others. Through social media it was hoping to reach the same goals as political movements are using it for, to gain shared awareness among the target groups.

The publications of the Ministry were in Arabic and targeted especially young men who were considering applying for asylum from Finland. The purpose of the Foreign Ministry was to correct the false rumors spread by the smugglers and inform about the new country policies for Iraqis. Finland tightened the country policies of Iraq and now it follows the general lines in Europe. The officials warned Iraqis not to spend their money on the long journey when it’s almost certain that they will be sent back. In this way the government was hoping to decrease the amount of Iraqis entering Finland and causing more expenses and bureaucracy among the official asylum processes. In couple of days the Facebook posts of the Foreign Ministry had already reached more than 100 000 viewers in Iraq and Turkey.

Screenshot from the Facebook page of the Foreign Ministry of Finland.

Screenshot from the Facebook page of the Foreign Ministry of Finland.

On December the Finnish Foreign Ministry also purchased targeted visibility on Facebook to reach the Afghans in Russia. Based on the customer profiles of Facebook, the ministry was targeting young, Dari or English speakers in Northwestern Russia and Moscow. Via social media the government tried to tell the Afghans not to consider getting an asylum in Finland on thin grounds. Targeted groups were informed about new stricter asylum criteria as well as the new techniques introduced for finding out the real age of the applicants. On Facebook the Foreign Ministry also informed about the first fast track decision to send asylum seekers back to Russia since in the northern border it had happened already.

As Shirky writes, the use of social media tools doesn’t have a single outcome and the changes in politics and public sphere are measured in a long run. In the case of Iraqis refugees the change in the amount of them entering Finland was anyhow seen in a very short of period. The refugees on the road change their plans fast and the content in social media plays a big role when they are making decisions to which country to go for an asylum. However it’s not clear which actors had the biggest influence, was it the shared experiences of previous asylum seekers or the targeted messages of the government, but it’s certain that the use of social media has a great power even on the national politics.

It is clear that social media is more and more important tool for refugees and different holders during the refugee crises. Governments, asylum seekers, NGOs working with the refugees, smugglers, all use the Internet for their own purposes. Internet freedom allows all this and so on it is left for the readers, the people in conflict areas, to decide which information to believe in this mixture of different news.

Posted in Facebook, Finland, Iraq, Social Media | 1 Comment

Social Media – News Agency for Refugees

When the prime minister of Finland, Juha Sipilä, announced that he would give out his house to accommodate asylum seekers, it was soon on everyone’s lips in Iraq. Unlike other European countries, Finland was granting automatic asylum to refugees from certain parts of Iraq and the information spread throughout the country. Due to that the biggest group of refugees to enter Finland has been Iraqis and the amount of asylum seekers from Iraq increased rapidly during late summer. When before the monthly amount of Iraqis coming to Finland was less than hundred, in September it was already 9000. The light red line shows the amount of Iraqis asylum seekers from the year 2014, the dark one from the year 2015.

Graphics of Iraqis asylum seekers in Finland. (Source: The Foreign Ministry of Finland.

Graphics of Iraqis asylum seekers in Finland. (Source: The Foreign Ministry of Finland.

The way people interact and receive information has completely changed within past few years when social media has become one of the most important tools of communication. Due to that smartphones are very crucial also to asylum seekers. They help to keep in touch with friends and family at home and are used to share the documented trips on Facebook for others planning the long journey through Europe. Phones are used to access maps and information when trying to plan the way across water and land borders and of course importantly social media offers an access to a large support network. Smart phones have indeed become essential for those on the road as they provide all the information from welfare to travel advises, even the GPS coordinates for smuggler boats.

While social media is very helpful for asylum seekers, it also creates lot of problems. Internet and the feature of it that anyone can provide any information with anonymity is widely taken advantaged. The dreams and hopes of those planning their new life in Europe, the false information provided by smugglers and the updates of those who have reached their destination, create a mixture which is often very far from the reality. Rumors leave people to read endless posts and comment threads and make their own choices based on the mixed information. ICT has not only changed the way refugees move and communicate but also how they think. Social media and the wide range of posts there, create a reality, where many young people think they need something else. It’s like advertising, creating a need in peoples mind.

Facebook group for Iraqis refugees that has more than 200 000 members was openly advertising Finland as the place to go:
بمجرد حصولك على الاقامة يتم ترحيلك من المخيم واعطاؤك شقة ويكون الاجار والخدمات عليهم ويتم صرف مبلغ من 300 يورو الى 500 يورو .
“After getting the residence permit, the applicant is given an apartment. Rent doesn’t need to be paid, and the applicant also gets 300-500 Euros in a month.”

The site offers precise advises how to get the asylum, listed reasons why exactly Finland is the place to go and clear instructions how to behave and what to say in front of the officials. They advertise how Finland is the easiest country for Iraqis to get the asylum and how the government pays all the expenses of asylum seekers. It is stated that even if the finger prints of refugees are taken in Greece, Finland won’t use this information.

The illusion of Finland spread on social media during the summer and caused thousands of Iraqis to leave their homes and make the long journey through Europe to reach the northern heaven. But the reality was not what was expected. On the Facebook page that shares information among Iraqis in Finland and those who are planning the trip to Europe many Iraqis started sharing their experiences from Finland. Many were considering returning to Iraq. They were disappointed. Several people told they had made their decision based on the news of the prime minister giving out his house for the asylum seekers. Clearly false information had been spread in social media.

On September there was a video on the site made by three asylum seekers from Iraq which shared a message how coming to Finland was a huge mistake. Video filmed in the center of Helsinki gives advises to the people thinking about leaving. Men speaking Arabic are saying: “You, who are considering leaving: Seriously, don’t! We are already thinking about returning to Iraq. We regret we ever came to Finland. We were wrong! Paid huge amount of money for nothing. In Iraq people think that there are so many wonders in Europe. Really it’s just normal here. Don’t think that Europe is something special. Seriously, situation in Europe is hard. Of course you can be safe here, but toilets are dirty, there are no clothes, food is expensive. It was so much better to live in Iraq. It’s dangerous, but let it be. Seriously, I’m going to return. I rather die in the homeland. It’s so terrible here. Situation is tough, you can have anything, but you just choke here.”

Screenshot from the Facebook page.

Screenshot from the Facebook page.

The images and expectation about Finland have been far away from the reality. The power of social media is enormous. After the critical information of Finland started to spread on Facebook, the amount of Iraqis refugees dropped. The amount of Iraqis asylum seekers cancelling their application for asylum increased. Buses carrying Iraqis coming from Sweden started turning back at the border. Because of the Internet and smart phones, information moves fast and refugees change their plans with dispatch. The government of Finland has also noticed this and created their own social media campaigns to warn refugees about the false information on the Internet and to recommend them not to come to the country. More about how the government is using social media as a tool during the refugee crises on our next post.

Posted in Facebook, Finland, Iraq, Social Media | 2 Comments