The US Has Been Denying People Entry Because Of What Their Friends Write On Social Media

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As if growing up on social media wasn't bad enough, making sure you don't have anything that might put off potential employers in the future, it appears you may have to look out for what your friends are saying too.

There have been several reports of people being denied entry into the US for received WhatsApp messages and social media posts made by friends, in what the legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has called "the new normal".

In June the State Department brought in new rules that mean nearly all applicants for US visas have to submit their social media details on a list of social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A Palestinian teenager who was admitted to Harvard says he was denied entry into the US by officials after they looked through the social media posts made by his friends. Ismail B. Ajjawi, 17, has been awarded a new Hope Fund undergraduate scholarship by US non-profit AMIDEAST and is due to begin his studies on September 3. Upon arrival at Boston Logan International Airport last Friday, he was detained by immigration officers, who searched through his phone and laptop for around five hours, he told The Harvard Crimson.

After looking through his friends' social media posts, not his, they deemed Ajjawi to be inadmissible to the US.

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“When I asked every time to have my phone back so I could tell them about the situation, the officer refused and told me to sit back in [my] position and not move at all,” Ajjawi wrote in a statement to The Harvard Crimson.

“After the five hours ended, she called me into a room, and she started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend list.”

The teenager told the officers that he had not made any political posts, and was not responsible for the posts of his friends, but has since been deported and returned to Lebanon.

"Preventing people from entering the country because their friends critiqued the US on social media shows an astounding disregard for the principle of free speech," Summer Lopez, senior director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America, said in a statement.

"The idea that Ajjawi should be prevented from taking his place at Harvard because of his own political speech would be alarming; that he should be denied this opportunity based on the speech of others is downright lawless."

The case is not an isolated incident. In recent weeks, there have been several reports of people being deported for pictures and messages forwarded to them by a friend, with the ADC saying that the FBI was even sent to deal with one person because of a WhatsApp message received from a friend.

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The university is working with Ajjawi's family and the authorities in order to get him back into the US to attend class. The case raises questions about what the US considers you responsible for online.

"I didn't like, share or comment on [the posts]. I shouldn't be held responsible for what others post," Ajjawi insisted. "I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”

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