The Danger of Social Networking During Travel
The recent deportation of two visitors to the USA following twitter comments they made, is just one strand of the problems which the phenomenon of social media can cause. In this case frustrating and costly, but other cases have seen communications on social media sites lead to real danger, imprisonment and crime.
The likes of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Youtube are worldwide social networks covering every corner of the globe, used by people of all nations as well as being monitored by the security services from every major power and paranoid government.
So should social media be used during travel?
The answer there is a resounding YES. I think travel is one of the best times to use social networks, it allows you, at the click of a button, to annoy all your friends stuck at home or at work; or to put a nicer slant on it, to share some of your adventures with family and friends.
The likes of Facebook allows you to communicate with those you choose to and let them know how you are getting on, that you are safe and to notify them when you change your original plans. It also allows you to communicate in one single message with everyone at one time, to share photos and experiences and to connect with new friends you meet along the way.
This interaction works well for both sides, reducing the effects of the ‘travel blues’ and home sickness, thus lowering the effects of culture shock, as well as reassuring those friends and family left behind and including them in your experiences; this inclusion can make the return home a significantly easier process.
Social media has become a great addition to the communication options available to travellers, especially with the spread across the world of internet access, making almost nowhere unconnected.
Social media can also cause problems both prior to and during travel.
In the case of the two tourists deported from the USA, Leigh Van Bryan an Irish national, had according to his own testimony been joking about saying he planned to ‘destroy America’. The term ‘destroy’ was according to Leigh, used in its colloquial form; referring to ‘drinking and partying hard’ as many young people in the UK and Ireland would understand it.
It’s an interesting failure in communication for those of us who teach effective communication skills through courses such as Conflict Resolution, the difference between the intended message sent and the interpretation of the receiver; in this case the receiver was the US Homeland Security Service. Miscommunication is a particular problem when messages are sent by text, email, twitter etc. as the interpretation we usually make from the tone and non verbal indicators are completely eliminated from the context, leaving a great deal of room for misinterpretation.
When we teach people about effective communication we emphasise that it actually matters less what the intended message was and matters a great deal more what the interpretation is. Sending a message to one person you know means you can write it in a way which, if you know them well enough, you have a fairly accurate way of judging what their interpretation of that message will be.
Twitter is in effect a message sent to upwards of 150 million people, the chances are some of those people will interpret things differently to the way you meant them; if that someone is the security services, an extremist group, a rogue individual or a very protective corporation, it can have serious consequences for the individual sending the message.
There have been other cases of social networking being used against individuals by criminals, I wrote a blog on just such a case in Colombia (Facebook Users Fleeced by Hackers) recently.
We have also seen cases of people’s own opinion expressed on blogs and social networking sites coming back to bite them when they travel. There have been a number of different publicised cases:
Thailand - People who made negative comments about the Thai Royal Family (a serious offence in Thailand) which resulted in imprisonment of individuals.
Bomb Scares - Messages threatening to blow up planes or airports, even in jest following the frustrating experiences of passengers, have on a number of occasions resulted in prosecutions. Even voicing the word ‘bomb’, ‘explosives’, ‘gun’ etc. in an airport or on a flight can result in flights being diverted and fighter jets being scrambled.
Dictatorships - In countries run by dictators or closed regimes, it is not a great idea to express contrary views to those of the regime, if you are in-country or visiting. In one such country I visited I sent about 40 postcards to friends and family, on many of those cards I wrote the line ‘such a beautiful country and people, such a pity about the dark underside you can feel’, those which contained the line never arrived, those which didn’t were received… I was lucky there are plenty of stories of travellers being detained, imprisoned and deported for expressing such seemingly innocuous views.
Criminals & Identity Theft – Criminals will use information you post on social networks to work out your true worth, either for the purposes of identity theft, kidnap or extortion. The information you post will identify your perceived value as a potential target; a picture of your home, your car or just the mention of your employer could make you a more attractive target. For example; if your employer is a well known oil company and you are travelling in Nigeria, it raises your attractiveness to kidnappers. They know an oil company is more likely to pay a higher ransom and they know insurance companies will often contribute to that payment, making a successful transaction more likely.
Customs & Passport Control - I learned from my very earliest solo travel experience that no ‘jokes’ should be made between leaving home for an airport and leaving the airport at your destination. On my first trip to Australia, after that very long flight, I walked up to the very efficient and friendly customs officer to present my landing card. When he asked the customary question ‘what is the purpose of your visit?’, a very young version of myself answered ‘I stole a sheep in England…’, I think it was only fair that I spend the next 2 hours having every fibre of my luggage examined in fine detail…
Remember when you travel; we live in a very liberal society in the UK, while we may believe our way is the right way, in other countries they think their way is the right way; both are correct. During travel the right way, is the way of the country you are visiting. Travel is a privilege not a right and a little common sense goes a long way.
Caution on Twitter urged as tourists barred from USA – BBC
Date – 20th April 2012
Submitted by – Peter Mayhew is the Managing Director of Safe Gap Year, he delivers independent travel safety training and provides expert advice on all issues of travel safety.
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