“Social media is putting out a vision of Europe that is not accurate,” said Matt Herbert, research manager at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. In the past, he said, the driver for migration was “the diaspora coming home for the summer. People would see their cousins wearing new, expensive clothes and aspire to be like that.” “With social media, it’s much more in your face and more accessible to everybody,” Herbert said.

In a photo posted in November, 18-year-old Sabee al Saidi is shown wearing bright-pink lipstick as she leans from the side of a rickety wooden boat, a calm blue sea stretched out behind her. In a video, she smiles alongside a dozen other migrants, gesturing to a popular rap song, AP reports.

A month later, Chaima Ben Mahmoude, 21, posted a similar video, waving as she made the crossing from Tunisia to Italy with her fiance in a boat crowded with migrants.

The two Tunisian women have sparked controversy with their posts — which show them on seemingly carefree trips across the Mediterranean, landing in Lampedusa, Italy, and then traveling around European cities taking selfies next to landmarks as they sport popular fashion brands. Many criticized them for “normalizing” a journey that leaves thousands dead each year.

According to the Missing Migrants Project, 2,048 people went missing in the Mediterranean in 2021, with 23,000 missing since 2014. Experts warn that al Saidi and Ben Mahmoude — social media influencers in Tunisia, with nearly 2 million followers on TikTok and Instagram between them — could inspire others to make the dangerous crossing.

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