How Social Networks Can Track Migration | News | SDG Knowledge Hub

With one of the fastest population declines in the world, Serbia is set to experience a quarter of its population loss by 2050. To address this problem, traditional data sources such as census data have proven unable to capture changes fast enough. What we need is updated statistics on immigration in a timely manner.

Alternative data sources, such as social media, represent a huge source of information that can be harnessed for national goals as well as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

After the 2021 UN World Data Forum, the SDG Knowledge Hub is sharing stories that illustrate data as a tool for social impact. The migration tracker, which is supported by the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the German Agency for International Cooperation in Serbia, is a clear representation of this.

This tracker uses Facebook ad data to measure migration trends. Using the social network data as an indicator of the number of Serbian immigrants and the emigration rate, it revealed that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of Serbian emigration likely decreased due to border closures. Furthermore, this solution validates Facebook data by linking it to official statistics and developing a regression model that takes into account both demographic statistics and Facebook penetration rates.

Drasko Draskovic, Head of Exploration at the UNDP Acceleration Laboratory, expressed the need for a “risk appetite” for alternative data sources closer to real time for both information collection and interventions. “It’s not about whether we should use alternative data sources to supplement the official data, but how,” he added. In this case, social network data is presented in an anonymized and disaggregated manner, i.e. by gender, age, education and marital status – key to ensuring that no one is left behind as we work to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The potential is great. With continuous use and improvement, it provides a means to better identify drivers of change in migration dynamics, such as epidemics, economic upheavals, wars, environmental changes, etc. Use the project as a supplement to their official statistics for future migration estimates.

It is important not to underestimate the role of migrants in driving sustainable development. Through optimal and comprehensive measurements of migrant flows, they can positively help guide government policy and, ultimately, progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

For more information on Migration Tracker, visit Leveraging Social Networks To Track Migration.

This article was written with the support of the United Nations World Data Forum Secretariat. Read additional SDG Knowledge Hub stories about the UN Global Data Forum, data impact and news.

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