TikTok: Can One Monetize Human Smuggling?

June 6, 2022

Selling or renting people for illegal purposes remains an area of interest to government officials. Disruptions like Russia’s special action in Ukraine have contributed to the flow of product. I read “Inside the Risky World of Migrant TikTok” and learned:

migrant TikTok[is] an ecosystem of content by and for migrants often repurposed to advertise and promote perilous, sometimes deadly journeys across closed European borders.

The write up added:

experts pointed to migrant TikTok as a new entry point for young people into the world of irregular migration. The absence of reliable information means that social media has long played a role in helping people share advice, with Facebook groups and other private channels acting as informal hubs for knowledge: how to travel, whom to contact. But with the rise of apps like TikTok where posts are public, compounded by recommender algorithms that repeatedly suggest similar content, virality [sic] has given this information greater reach among people who aren’t actively searching for it.

The article includes an interesting observation about the smart software in use at Zuckbook and TikTok; to wit:

Social media companies like TikTok and Meta increasingly employ AI systems to moderate content at scale. But since these AI systems are context-blind, digital rights activists say they can end up missing, for example, a key word in dialect. That keyword may continue to feed similar content onto a user’s timeline.

The European Union is poking into this subject and regulations may emerge:

New EU legislation attempts to mandate the monitoring of online smuggling networks and even algorithm transparency, while agencies like Frontex and Europol have tried to use data scraping to inform predictive analysis models for what routes illegal migrants might use. So far, it’s resulted in a tug of war that leaves the content largely up and available.

The write up points to a word like haraga (?????) or harraga when converted to Kentucky speak’s colloquial “those who burn at the borders.” (Klassy Kentucky, of course.)

I was curious about the estimable Google. The link to search YouTube’s version of TikTok is at this link. Now enter the term “haraga”. Here’s the result I saw using my “we track you, Beyond Search person:


Yep, looks like the type of content discussed in the cited article.

What about the spelling harraga:


To sum up, the focus on TikTok is good. TikTok is gnawing into the viewing habits of people younger than I. Facebook and Google want to check the China-affiliated super app. The Google’s filtering system may need some tweaking to cope with the migration information findable to some degree on YouTube.

Several observations:

  1. More attention should be directed at TikTok and other short video platforms as well
  2. Smart software has not been turned to filter certain content some European border control professionals might like
  3. The EU regulatory moves warrant watching. Now there’s a story for the big US media to explore.
  4. Where there is traffic, there will be ads.

Net net: The content related possibly illegal trans border activity is one more example about the growing influence of TikTok. The flip side is that Zuckbook and Google may find themselves “following.” I do not give this a “like.”

Stephen E Arnold, June 6, 2022


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