Leaving home is never an easy decision. For migrants, the decision can mean saying goodbye to familiarity in exchange for uncertainty. So what prompts a person to make that difficult decision? In cases of war, famine, and other life-threatening situations, there may be no choice. When people have more choice, however, researchers are finding that access to the internet may play an important role.
It's easy to think of reasons why the internet might support migration. It provides easy access to information about other countries, and shifts material aspirations upward by showing what life is like elsewhere.
Social media can give people insights into destination countries that may not have otherwise been on their radar. Social media could also make leaving home feel marginally easier, since it’s a way to maintain contact with family across borders.
On the other hand, there are reasons why the internet may discourage migration. The internet might contribute to economic growth and job creation in a country, decreasing people’s desire to migrate in search of a better economic situation. Or it could enable more remote work, making it unnecessary to physically leave to find a better job.
To find out exactly how the internet affected migration, researchers looked at data from the World Bank, the International Telecommunication Union, the Global Peace Index, the Arab Barometer, and the Gallup World Poll to track internet usage and migration patterns. The data showed positive associations between people’s access to the internet and their willingness and actual decisions to migrate. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other, but it might.
Whether we love the internet or hate it, nobody can argue that it isn’t influential.