Accepted paper:

How refugees and asylum seekers in the UK negotiate online privacy and visibility

Authors:

Matthew Voigts (University of Nottingham)

Paper short abstract:

Building on 'digital anthropology', this paper discusses how online privacy practices of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK from Syria and Iran reflect physical and social concerns that they may - at some point - be forced to return 'home'.

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses how online privacy practices change as asylum seekers and refugees adjust to life in the UK under threat of - at some point - of being deported. It is drawn from ethnographic research with NGOs, asylum seekers and refugees (from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries) living in the East Midlands (UK), and builds on the interests of Daniel Miller and colleagues' 'digital anthropology'. While some asylum seekers stay in the limbo of a labyrinthine asylum system partially out of a perceived lack of other options, others attain asylum. All live with the knowledge that they may at some point be deported to their home countries. They negotiate online self-expression with this fear in mind. The refugees and asylum seekers with whom this research was conducted post carefully and infrequently on public-facing social media like Facebook, where activity's value is often outweighed by social and physical risks that are difficult to mitigate solely with the technical security concerns that dominate many discussions of 'online privacy'. Online visibility (particularly related to sensitive topics like politics, sexuality and religion) may jeopardize relationships with and safety of family back home, yet may also produce evidence for asylum claims demonstrating a danger of persecution. At the same time, being abroad provides individuals with some protective distance from these concerns' effects in their home countries. As time goes on, and the threat of forced return feels less immediate, many become more comfortable with identifying as 'themselves' on 'public' social media.

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panel P153
Settling in hostile environments: the effects of deportability on migrants and their families