Understanding the Security and Privacy Implications of Online Toxic Content on Refugees


Arjun Arunasalam, Purdue University; Habiba Farrukh, University of California, Irvine; Eliz Tekcan and Z. Berkay Celik, Purdue University


Deteriorating conditions in regions facing social and political turmoil have resulted in the displacement of huge populations known as refugees. Technologies such as social media have helped refugees adapt to challenges in their new homes. While prior works have investigated refugees' computer security and privacy (S&P) concerns, refugees' increasing exposure to toxic content and its implications have remained largely unexplored. In this paper, we answer how toxic content can influence refugees' S&P actions, goals, and barriers, and how their experiences shape these factors. Through semi-structured interviews with refugee liaisons (n=12), focus groups (n=9, 27 participants), and an online survey (n=29) with refugees, we discover unique attack contexts (e.g., participants are targeted after responding to posts directed against refugees) and how intersecting identities (e.g., LGBTQ+, women) exacerbate attacks. In response to attacks, refugees take immediate actions (e.g., selective blocking) or long-term behavioral shifts (e.g., ensuring uploaded photos are void of landmarks) These measures minimize vulnerability and discourage attacks, among other goals, while participants acknowledge barriers to measures (e.g., anonymity impedes family reunification). Our findings highlight lessons in better equipping refugees to manage toxic content attacks.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.