Communicating borders - Governments deterring asylum seekers through social media campaigns
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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This article analyses a novel attempt by the Norwegian Government to use Facebook to influence migrants’ destination choices. With the refugee crisis in the fall of 2015 as a backdrop, the Norwegian case reveals the dilemmas that occur when governments use social media as instruments to control immigration. While social media provide governments with new tools, such as paid targeting and access to new groups of migrants, their use also raises ethical concerns. The distinct qualities of today’s social media, their affordances, do not fully square with established norms for government communication. Based on interviews, this article follows the development of the Norwegian Facebook campaign, labelled ‘Stricter Asylum Regulations in Norway’. Using a case-study methodology, the exploration of the campaign provides a behind-the-scenes analysis of an ongoing attempt at managing migration via social media. Among the dilemmas that are identified, we find the need to communicate effectively on social media platforms—that is, to change the behaviour of target groups—may collide with the ground rules of civil service information to the public. The Norwegian campaign, sharing key features with similar campaigns across Europe, shows both the potential and the challenges involved in communicating with migrants in a potentially vulnerable situation, on social media platforms. While social media have been described as a ‘backstage’ for migrants, this article reveals how governments enter this communicative space, thereby changing its semi-private nature.