OU research highlights benefits and risks of smartphones for refugees
Today (16 May) marks the launch of a new academic report by the Open University, Mapping Refugee Media Journeys: Smart Phones and Social Media Networks. The research identified a huge gap in the provision of relevant, reliable and timely news and information for and with refugees that is endangering their lives.
“Our research suggests that the information and news needs of refugees are not sufficiently taken into account by governments and news organisation as they make perilous journeys from war-torn parts of the world to Europe and when they arrive. EU member states have failed to develop a coherent policy strategy to deal with refugees entering Europe,” said Marie Gillespie, OU Professor of Sociology and a member of the OU’s Citizenship and Governance priority research area.
“News and government agencies are effectively reneging on their responsibility under the UN Refugee Charter to provide information and news that can assist their search for protection and safety because they fear that they might be accused of facilitating and encouraging refugees to come to Europe. It’s now such a politicised issue.”
“Quick tech fixes don’t work.”
The research uses an innovative mix of methods: serial interviews with Syrian and Iraqi refugees as they make their journeys, an analysis of news media coverage of refugees and a ‘big data’ analysis of refugee social networks on Facebook and Twitter by computer scientists. It involves interviews with staff at the European Commission, among international broadcasters and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It provides a best practice guide for those providing digital resources for refugees.
The report reveals that refugees access the news and information they need through their mobile phones mainly via links sent by trusted friends and family, as well as by smugglers. The smartphone is both a resource and a threat on their journeys. It is an essential navigation, translation and networking tool but it is also a threat as the digital traces refugees leave behind make them vulnerable to surveillance by extremists and smugglers. The smartphones also contain an ever-expanding photo album of violence and abuse that they may have witnessed.
The need for security forces refugees to go underground digitally where they use avatars and encrypted services to get vital information from smugglers and handlers whom they have to rely on and sometimes trust more than government sources and mainstream media.
Read full press release – OU research highlights benefits and risks of smartphones for refugees.
Mapping Refugee Media Journeys: Smart Phones and Social Media Networks was produced by The Open University and France Mèdias Monde.
Read more about OU research in Citizenship and Governance.