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Social Media Safety & Privacy for Asylum Seekers (a workshop template)

V1.0. Last updated 2 August 2018.


A workshop template is for running an introductory digital safety & privacy training workshop for asylum seekers and refugees.

This document focuses on how to frame the session so that it feels urgent and relevant to asylum seekers. Details about specific apps and settings have been left out because they tend to a) change very quickly, and b) vary from community to community – so you will need to do some upfront research to fill those in.

Parts that need to be filled in with the latest/most relevant apps/settings are marked like this.

Our workshop is framed around "social media safety & privacy" rather than general digital safety/privacy because asylum seekers tend to be heavy users of social media, and because what they post can directly affect their asylum application. Additionally, the last third of our workshop is intentionally devoted to mental health because feeling well and safe is essential to being secure.

Workshop duration: 1.5 hours
Number of participants: 5-15
Equipment required: N/A

Feel free to download this template, print it, mark it up, and fork it here on Github. If you do use it, please drop us a line!

Planning the workshop

Recruitment and logistics

  • Work with a non-profit/group that already offers services for asylum seekers if possible.
  • Find a private space for the session, preferably one where everyone can sit around in a circle and one that has a secure wifi connection.
  • If you have limited technical expertise, we recommend partnering up with a digital security expert to help plan and facilitate the more technical parts of the workshop.

Customizing our template

  • Fill in all the technology specific parts.
  • Fine tune the script for your target audience.
  • Add in parts to address specific concerns you've heard from the community.
  • Print the handout.

Trial run (optional)

  • Conduct a trial run of the workshop with a friendly member from the community.
  • Update your filled-in template accordingly.

Running the workshop

Introductions (5 minutes)

  • Overview of workshop.
  • Facilitator self-introductions.
  • Participant self-introductions: name, birth country, years in new country, most used social media app.
  • Connect to WiFi (if available).
  • Give out a copy of the handout.
  • General disclaimer: no one attending the workshop should be in immediate, life-threatening danger through the internet. If they are, they should contact an expert directly.

Risks of using social media (talk, 15 mins)

Why there's a direct risk:

  1. Many countries check public social media information as part of asylum process (Canada, Germany). A few (Austria, UK, Norway) will even confiscate your phone for a few days and Denmark has been known to require people's Facebook passwords.
  2. Immigration officers often ask people to prove what they’re saying by showing them the proper messages or emails on their phone.
  3. A friend (or your children) might accidentally leak your information: a friend's phone might get stolen, friends accidentally tag you publicly on Facebook, or somebody gets hacked from a scam email.

"If an immigration official got hold of your phone, unlocked, is there anything on there that could put you in danger?" Walk through the answers, for example:

  • Location data.
  • Indications of spending beyond their stipend/wage.
  • Happy stories about/from home country disproving persecution.
  • Membership in Facebook groups with strange names.

Introduce idea of how apps store everything + why metadata matters, including:

  • Companies often have access to contents of chat messages/private posts! Some apps have access (insert list of relevant regularly-encrypted apps) even if they normally wouldn’t read it. A few don’t (insert list of relevant end-to-end encrypted apps), and can’t even hand it over if law enforcement forces them to.
  • Message metadata is the digital equivalent of “what the post office would know about you without opening the envelope.” Even if they can’t read your messages, even some apps insert reference to 1-2 end-to-end encrypted apps still store information about who you talk to, when you talked to them and where you were at the time.
  • Metadata can be dangerous, but isn’t necessarily so: a) authorities need lots of other people’s data to make it work and even then they often yield inconclusive conclusions, b) location + who you talk to is generally not going to get you in trouble.

Stronger passwords & storage encryption (hands-on activity, 10 mins)

Basic password security:

  • Passcode lock phone.
  • Don’t use same password for important accounts.
  • If very tech-savvy, use a password manager (insert the password manager has the best free plan at the time of workshop).
  • Use longer/more secure passwords on important accounts (insert best practice for passwords here).
  • If you’re not used to having passwords, write it down somewhere and store it in a secure location.

Encrypt storage devices:

  • Encrypt phone storage:
    • iOS: Automatic if iOS is up to date.
    • Android: Some Android installations encrypt automatically. For others, it's in the Settings app under Security > “Encrypt phone.”
  • Worth mentioning as homework but not to do on the spot:
    • If they connect their phones to their computers, make sure phone backups are encrypted.
    • Encrypt SD cards, computer hard drives and external hard drives.

In-app privacy settings (hands-on activity, 10 mins)

Introduce privacy settings bias: default settings always share a little too much including publicly to people you're not friends with. E.g. location, time last online, profile photo.

Insert screenshots + step-by-step instructions for 4-5 social media apps (including data apps) they're using that have privacy settings

Main takeaway: every social media/communications app has a privacy settings page! Find it! Read it! Turn things off!

Personal social network mapping exercise (group activity, 15 mins)

Hand out sample drawing. Hand participants pencil and paper and have them draw out:

  • Who they’re connected to online.
  • The social media networks/apps that they’re using.
  • The group chats or social network groups they are a part of.
  • Where they post or store photos (can be online, can be offline).

Important note: depending the group, their willingness to share their own information will differ. In the worst case scenario, session facilitators should be prepared to use themselves as the sole example and lead this activity with very little participant input.


  • Ask participants to put a check next to people/groups they trust, and a cross next to people/groups they do not trust. Discuss.
  • Ask about what kinds of things do they tell trusted people that they wouldn’t tell others?

We recommend doing this mapping exercise after talking about the pros and cons of social media use and hands-on privacy settings as participants have a better context for why they are doing this exercise.

Filter bubbles (discussion, 15 mins)

Explain the concept of the filter bubble using the most relevant social network as an example. Add that it applies to chat groups too on a smaller scale. Explain that the system amplifies both positive and negative messages as long as they create a lot of engagement.

Give 1-2 examples of rumors that filter bubbles help spread. If nothing else, the immigration rumors that led them to where they are and/or about where they're seeking asylum.

Social media “addiction” (discussion, 10 mins)

Explain that social media apps are designed to keep you hooked and spending time on their platform, possibly at the detriment of our mental health.


  • Take breaks if you’re not feeling well.
  • Delete the app for a week or month if you need to just step away and cool off for a while.
  • Have no-phone periods (meal times, family quality time, etc.).
  • No phone/internet before bedtime.

Ending the session (5 mins)

Walk them through the recommended apps on the handout. Field any last questions.

Workshop handout

Create a basic document of all the apps you will recommend in the course of the workshop, with a screenshots of their icons + names. Refer to the handout throughout the session so participants don't need to scramble on-the-spot to write down/find the apps.

Credits & license

The workshop has grown out of Saskia Witteborn’s research with asylum seekers and refugees and their technology use in Hong Kong, the U.S., and Europe since 2010. Jason Li contributed digital security knowledge. The workshop was jointly planned and facilitated by both of them. This project was fully funded by the General Research Fund from the University Grants Committee of Hong Kong (Grant number 14610915).

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Social Media Safety & Privacy for Asylum Seekers (a workshop template)






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