Culture

Activists recommend undocumented immigrants maintain a low profile on social media

For months, 4chan and Reddit forums have encouraged users to seek out immigrants that are posting about being undocumented online — such as through the Twitter hashtag “undocumented and unafraid" — and denounce them to ICE. In response, activists recommend that undocumented immigrants take precautions when posting personal information online.

"This thread is for reporting illegal aliens," reads the "OUT OUT OUT" thread on the notorious internet forum 4chan. "Go on social media and find accounts that belong to undocumented immigrants. Find solid evidence of wrongdoing, such as admitting to being 'undocumented and unafraid'. Bonus points for drug use!"

The post then lists the telephone number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), followed by "#MAGA."

Now archived, that and similar online threads have forced a number of immigrants to take extreme precaution online in recent months. Some have simply deleted their accounts.

The once popular hashtag #UndocumentedAndUnafraid, initially intended for use by undocumented immigrants, has been completely co-opted.

"I've received messages of hate since I began to tell my story as an undocumented person," Erika Andiola, a prominent Dreamer and activist for undocumented immigrants, told Univision. "But the difference right now is that [anti-immigrant users] are much more empowered."

Iván Ceja, founder of UndocuMedia, says that his organization was one of the first to detect 4chan's traps in January.

One suggested users create a fake pro-immigrant organization and offer $500 scholarships for undocumented students as a way to make them admit to being "illegal." We could "easily catch hundreds and get their contact info," wrote the anonymous author. (All posts on 4chan are anonymous.)

The messages have appeared in one of 4chan's most active subforms, called /Pol/, an abbreviation for "politically incorrect." This community, which is linked to the alt-right, became a source of Trump-related memes during the presidential election, some of which were adopted by the Trump campaign itself. /Pol/ also propagated Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories such as “ Pizzagate,” which linked Clinton's campaign to a fake child prostitution ring supposedly housed in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria.

Similar messages that urge people to denounce the undocumented have appeared on The Donald, a famous Reddit subforum that supported the then-Republican candidate with great success.

Ceja says his organization recommended then that undocumented people stop using the hashtag #UndocumentedandUnafraid and that they be "allies of the movement" instead.

Andiola says she has seen an uptick in threats on her social networks since Trump took office. Now, her Twitter is filled with trolls that mention ICE and ask the agency to find and deport her.

In fact, 4chan users identified Andiola as one of the first people who might "bite" the bait and self-identify as undocumented.

Andiola recommends people turn off their location on Twitter and Instagram and be cautious with information linked to uploaded photos.

However, the young woman says she refuses to halt her online activism out of fear. The internet has played an important role in her own fight and she doesn't plan to give it up, even if that means she has to be more careful.

"Things have gotten better thanks to technology, but we know the other side is using it too," she says. "Returning to the shadows is almost impossible."

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