Sharing Venecas: Understanding the Role of WhatsApp in Dehumanising Venezuelan Immigrant Women

Authors: Carlos Estrada-Grajales*, Queensland University of Technology, Ariadna Matamoros-Fernández, Queensland University of Technology
Topics: Women, Immigration/Transnationalism, Latin America
Keywords: WhatsApp, Venezuelan Women, Colombia, Xenophobia, Hateful Rhetoric, Immigrants, Throwntogetherness
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Marriott Ballroom Salon 3, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since its formation as a republic, Colombia has no records of hosting intercultural encounters resulted from large immigration of foreign nationals. In September 2018, however, the Colombian Migration Department reported that more than 935.000 Venezuelan citizens have crossed the boundary in the last 36 months, running away from the ongoing economic and political crisis. The Venezuelan exodus has exacerbated the vulnerability conditions of the immigrants. In parallel, the immigration wave has triggered in segments of the hosting population xenophobic reactions, reproduced, among other vehicles, in social media and communication platforms such as WhatsApp. In the shape of memes circulated through WhatsApp, a dehumanising, sexually-loaded, and misogynistic rhetoric has targeted Venezuelan women (Venecas) portraying them as cheap prostitutes. In a scenario like the Colombian, in which nearly 50% of the population owns smartphones and 84% of them uses WhatsApp daily, is important to investigate the role of that platform in mediating the tensions and conviviality between Venezuelan immigrants and Colombian hosts. By drawing on digital methods and interviews with Colombian organisations involved in the promotion of immigrants rights, this paper explores, on the one side, the opportunities offered by WhatsApp as a disruptive/facilitator vehicle for 'coming-together' in a hostile environment, and the experiences of victimised Venezuelan women in Colombia. While there are initial accounts indicating a negative connotation of WhatsApp as a vehicle for reproducing hating rhetoric and the fragility of conviviality around immigrants, other findings hint the possibility of the platform for reproducing more empathetic discourses towards vulnerable immigrant populations.

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