It is often said that refugees have expensive mobiles. Many see this as a contradiction to their image of the “poor and needy” refugee. But having access to the platforms of social media is not a luxury, it is vital for these very people.
Important things on a dangerous journey
While they are on the move most refugees are separated from friends and family back in their home countries. Social media allows them to stay in contact. Frequently and regularly they can exchange information about their situation, geographic location, their health and security. More often than not they are on their own and their beloved ones are worried. That is the reason why social media has become an important part to their lives.
The reason why these platforms are so popular is obvious: It is an effective and cheap means of communication. Be it Facebook (in particular Facebook groups and Messenger), WhatsApp, Viber or similar services: usage often costs only the connection to the telecom provider. It is therefore vital that the refugees get one or several SIM cards in each country they are crossing. Free Wifi is a rare commodity on their journey and its availability and quality is often sketchy.
A big problem remain though: The battery has to stay charged at all times, at least at a minimum for emergencies. It is not always possible to have access to electricity and sockets for recharging. To save battery life refugees have made it a habit to dim the brightness of the screen of their mobile and to close down unused apps. It they don’t expect to communicate they even disable the Wifi function.
What apps are popular?
We did a survey with 40 refugees from different backgrounds (Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan et.) and wanted to know which apps they have used an their journey from their homeland. Men and women were represented in equal numbers. Which apps were popular with men and which with women and was there a difference?
The results are hardly surprising. Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber are the most-used apps of both groups, men and women. Facebook is popular with men and women at nearly the same percentage. Imo and Twitter, while not so popular in general, have more male users than female users.