Home Office to pay TikTok influencers to warn migrants not to cross the Channel

Goverment plans could see taxpayers pay social media celebrities to warn people of deportation to Rwanda

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 13 February 2024 23:01 GMT
Michael Gove's response when asked to bet £1,000 on Rwanda flights taking off

The Home Office is planning to pay influencers to post content on TikTok warning migrants not to travel to Britain in small boats.

The government has been using taxpayer money for social media adverts aimed at deterring potential asylum-seekers for the past three years, in France, Belgium and Albania – but The Independent has previously reported how they had instead targeted tourists and business travellers.

It is now understood that home secretary James Cleverly has agreed to expand the campaign into new source countries, with conversations already underway with the governments of Vietnam, Iraq and Egypt about what forms it could take there.

James Cleverly is understood to have given the green light on the project (PA)

Under this expansion, the government will also seek to pay influencers on sites such as TikTok to warn of the risks and repercussions of travelling to the UK by small boat, and has been drawing up lists of social media celebrities who could be suitable.

According to draft plans seen by The Times, these include rappers, comedians and TV personalities, who could be paid up to £5,000 to warn would-be migrants of removal to Rwanda, with a total budget of £30,000. The Home Office told The Independent the document was outdated, and it did not recognise the figures.

The previous success of such campaigns is unclear. Research shared with The Independent showed the Home Office paid Meta at least £35,000 for hundreds of Facebook and Instagram adverts shown to people in northern France and Belgium between January 2021 and September 2022.

Some reached fewer than 1,000 people, and others over a million, but the goverment had no way of telling who it was reaching with its “weird patchwork profiles” of targeted languages, home cities and interests, and was instead “just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks”, said the University of Edinburgh’s Dr Ben Collier.

A prior investigation by The Independent in 2022 also found the Home Office had paid £2.7m to Hong Kong-based firm Seefar since 2016, which conducts “migration awareness-raising and behavioural change campaigns”, including a controversial government website which saw ministers seek to deter asylum-seekers.

Seefar is behind websites including the now-defunct ‘On The Move’ website , which was used in a Home Office campaign to deter Channel crossings (On The Move)

More than 100,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats since 2018, when the treacherous and previously rare route into Britain first started to be attempted in large numbers. At least 64 people are thought to have drowned.

While such arrivals fell by more than a third in 2023, nearly 30,000 people did enter Britain that way, making it the second highest year on record, despite the government criminalising such crossings and pressing on with its ailing plans to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda as a deterrent.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “People smugglers frequently use social media to peddle lies and promote their criminal activities, and it is vital that we utilise the same platforms to inform migrants about the truths about crossing the Channel and coming to the UK illegally.

“The relentless action we have taken reduced crossings by 36 per cent last year, which saw similar weather conditions to 2022. We make no apologies for using every means necessary to stop the boats and save lives.”

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