Thursday, February 22, 2024

Opinion: Many Americans believe migrants bring fentanyl across the border. That’s wrong and dangerous

Two unrelated facts combined with a lie form powerful and dangerous misinformation that spreads virally.

The facts are that a drug overdose epidemic is killing more than 100,000 Americans a year and that many more migrants than ever are crossing the country’s southern border. The lie is that migrants are bringing fentanyl, the highly addictive opioid that causes most fatal overdoses.

Most illicit fentanyl is manufactured abroad and smuggled across the southern border. But it is largely transported by American citizens, not migrants.

About 90% of the fentanyl seized at the border in recent years was at legal crossings, which undocumented migrants typically avoid, and 91% of the seizures came from U.S. citizens, according to Border Patrol data. It’s much easier to transport fentanyl pills or powder in one of the thousands of vehicles that pass through legal ports of entry each day than it is in scruffy people crossing the border on foot, wade and wade. climb.

Former President Trump and other politicians and pundits nonetheless relentlessly linked migrants to fentanyl on the campaign trail, in Congress, and on social media. A Trump campaign ad warned of “record numbers crossing our border, costing taxpayers billions, and nearly as many Americans killed from fentanyl as killed in World War II.” It showed footage of crowds marching along a road and a Fox News headline: “Border Patrol Seize Enough Fentanyl to Kill Entire US.”

This is a classic example of what we call dangerous speech: language that inspires fear and violence by describing another group of people as an existential threat. And this is having terrible effects: Americans are increasingly convinced that migrants are responsible for the fentanyl crisis. Social media posts blaming migrants for the consequences of drugs more than tripled between December and January, according to our analysis of more than 30 sites.

Along with other dangerous narratives portraying migrants as terrorists and invaders, the fentanyl lie is fueling calls for states to send National Guard troops to the border — even from locations far from the border , like Florida. This increases the risk of violent clashes with migrants as well as federal Border Patrol agents.

This type of misinformation, which is based not only on partial truths but also on genuine fear and grief, is particularly difficult to refute. Fear is a visceral emotion that provokes strong biological responses from the human body, so the most dangerous speeches invoke a deadly threat.

Fear of illness, for example, can be as transmissible as the microbes that cause it. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, fear led people to believe dangerous misinformation, including Trump’s recommendation to take the anti-malaria drug chloroquine to protect against contagion. A recently published study attributes approximately 17,000 deaths in the United States and other countries to the use of hydroxychloroquine early in the pandemic.

The combination of truth, lies and fear has already proven fatal. During the 2018 to 2020 Ebola outbreak, for example, it was clear that the disease was deadly and that many Congolese distrusted their government. When these facts were combined with the false rumor that medical workers were spreading Ebola instead of trying to prevent people from dying from it, the workers came under attack. Inspired disinformation nearly 500 acts of violence and at least 25 deaths.

It is essential that influential people refute the fentanyl lie, which creates similar risks of violence against a particular group, in this case migrants. Additionally, such dangerous misinformation diverts attention and resources from effective responses to a deadly epidemic.

Susan Benesch is the executive director of the Dangerous Speech Project, of which Catherine Buerger is the research director.

Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from



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