PLOS ONE Peer-Reviewed Research Article
Quantifying international human mobility patterns using Facebook Network data
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Quantifying global international mobility patterns can improve migration governance. Despite decades of calls by the international community to improve international migration statistics, the availability of timely and disaggregated data about long-term and short-term migration at the global level is still very limited. In this study, we investigate the feasibility of using non-traditional data sources to fill existing gaps in migration statistics. To this end, we use anonymised and publicly available data provided by Facebook’s advertising platform. Facebook’s advertising platform classifies its users as “lived in country X” if they previously lived in country X, and now live in a different country. Drawing on statistics about Facebook Network users (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and the Audience Network) who have lived abroad and applying a sample bias correction method, we estimate the number of Facebook Network (FN) “migrants” in 119 countries of residence and in two time periods by age, gender, and country of previous residence. The correction method estimates the probability of a person being a FN user based on age, sex, and country of current and previous residence. We further estimate the correlation between FN-derived migration estimates and reference official migration statistics. By comparing FN-derived migration estimates in two different time periods, January-February and August-September 2018, we successfully capture the increase in Venezuelan migrants in Colombia and Spain in 2018. FN-derived migration estimates cannot replace official migration statistics, as they are not representative, and the exact methods the FN uses for classifying its users are not known, and might change over time. However, after carefully assessing the validity of the FN-derived estimates by comparing them with data from reliable sources, we conclude that these estimates can be used for trend analysis and early-warning purposes.