Social media platforms accused of contributing to Polish-Belarusian border crisis – EURACTIV.com
Facebook has found itself in the spotlight for allegedly providing a “key coordination center” for human smugglers luring people to the Poland-Belarus border, creating an increasingly dangerous situation for those who are trapped in the region, according to research and media reports.
The EU accused Belarus of luring thousands of migrants to the Polish border by promising them easy passage, described by the Commission as “abuse of power”, in response to sanctions imposed on the government of Alexander Lukashenko.
Concern is growing for the safety of those stranded in the region, as many remain trapped between the two countries in worsening conditions.
Research by analytics firm Semantic Visions discovered that social media platforms facilitate people smuggling from Belarus to the EU by allowing smugglers to openly advertise their services and coordinate their activities online.
Research from Semantic Visions revealed that Facebook was the main platform for sharing information on the road between Belarus and the EU, with many groups focused on the topic having been created and winning thousands of new ones. members within months.
Across the platform, smugglers advertised access to the route, often in collaboration with travel agencies around the world. Contact details of smugglers, as well as information on how to obtain Belarusian visas, for example, were also openly shared.
Recent New York Times report explained how disinformation on Facebook led people to go to the border and, after seeing that crossings were closed, to find themselves trapped, prevented from entering Poland but also prevented from returning by Belarusian authorities.
Border area at center of growing humanitarian concerns amid reports people stranded in freezing conditions without access to food or shelter. At least a dozen people have died since the start of the crisis.
At the time of the report’s publication this week, Semantic Visions said online activity related to the Belarus-EU route had not significantly declined on social media platforms. “Despite the scenes of chaos and tragedy on the Belarusian-Polish border,” the report said, “Belarusian visa offers and smuggling continue to circulate.”
A spokesperson for Meta, the company that owns Facebook, told EURACTIV that “human trafficking across international borders is illegal and any advertisements, posts, pages or groups that provide, facilitate or coordinate this activity are not not allowed on Facebook. We remove this content as soon as we become aware of it, regardless of who posts the content.
The absence of journalists in the region worsens the availability of reliable information on the situation in the border area. The media have not been able to access Poland’s border area since the state of emergency was instituted in early September.
A Polish border guard told EURACTIV that access restrictions were common practice under state of emergency law and would also apply in cases such as natural disasters.
However, critics have said the law, which was renewed in early November, is being used to avoid scrutiny of the actions of authorities in the region. NOThe new legislation passed last week by the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, aims to extend the powers conferred by the state of emergency, including the ban on access, beyond their statutory purpose.
In a statement released last week, Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights, called for allowing media and aid workers to access the border, saying the ban “Undermines freedom of expression and information and limits the necessary transparency and accountability”.
Speaking at a panel on media and democracy at a conference organized by the European Economic and Social Committee in Lisbon last week, Andrzej Stankiewicz, deputy editor of the Polish news site ONET.pl, said the ban was an attempt to prevent journalists from transmitting information that would contradict the government’s message on the crisis.
The official line, he said, is clearly anti-migrants, which means allowing the media to access the area and show the human side of the situation would be a “political risk for the government”.
He added that the government has also sought to use the crisis to portray journalists as an “enemy”, sympathetic either to Lukashenko or the EU, but as being against Poland.
The responsibility for resolving the situation should not, however, lie solely with Poland, said Mijatović. “This is a European issue which requires a response centered on human rights, based on solidarity and European values and standards”.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]