In the United States, misinformation and fake news have plagued the immigration debate for years, fostering anti-immigrant sentiment and hostility within certain segments of the population.
By Jessica Cobian
A global phenomenon, misinformation has driven public debate on immigration and ethnic conflict in multiple countries—leading in a number of cases to violence. In Mexico, social media users took misleading images out of context and shared them on online platforms. The subsequent upsurge in misinformation led to anti-immigrant hostility and violent confrontations between Tijuana residents and the Central American migrant caravan.
The caravan arrives in Mexico
In October 2018, thousands of migrants fled violence in Central America and traveled to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Residents from the village of Pijijiapan demonstrated their solidarity with crates of food, water, clothing, and medical supplies. After receiving clothing and a toy for his 3-year-old son, Alexander, Pedro Osmin Ulloa told reporters, “These people have been beautiful. … Everyone’s helping us out.” By the time the caravan traveled into Mexico City, the group had grown to include 5,000 migrants. The city turned a sports stadium into a camp that offered medical and dental services. Children spent their mornings drawing, and mariachi bands and masked wrestlers filled the stadium to perform.
The caravan’s planned destination in Mexico was Tijuana, where the group intended to present themselves at the San Ysidro Port of Entry several miles south of San Diego. However, as the migrant caravan grew, so did Mexico’s anti-immigrant sentiment. Misinformation exploded on social media, including rumors that caravan members were hostile toward Mexican citizens, refused to accept Mexican aid, and behaved violently toward police authorities
Misinformation spreads on social media
One of the most potent images circulated on social media just days after the caravan arrived in Mexico. It was first shared by a news outlet and on social media on October 20, under the headline “Brutally beaten by the members of the caravan in their attempt to force their entry into Mexico.” The image shows an injured Mexican police officer with blood covering his face and running from his head to his neck. (warning: graphic image) The narrative on social media and in the news contended that members of the caravan had injured a Mexican police officer while they crossed the Mexico-Guatemala border. This is patently false.