New legislation, if approved next month, will require most visa applicants to the USA to relinquish all their social media identities from the previous five years. Last year this would have meant almost 15 million visitors handing over their Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram handles – assuming they hadn’t all turned round and told the ‘Land of the Free’ what it could do with them.
The proposals have got convention and travel industry leaders rattled.
Already reeling from a fall in visitors since Trump took office, they fear this latest attempt to toughen the vetting procedure could put another dent in America’s international tourism numbers.
Aimed at reducing the threat of terrorism, the policy would seem to have an obvious flaw: would a terrorist really be candid with their social media history? Beyond that, there is a feeling that, after the so-called ‘Muslim ban’, this latest proposal will simply dissuade people from visiting the states.
A feeling, too, that it will add to a growing feeling of discrimination. After all, if you live in the UK, or France, or Australia, or any of the 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Programme, none of this will apply. Lucky you. Others may simply opt to go elsewhere.
Patricia Rojas-Ungár, VP of public affairs for the US Travel Association, says: “The utility of these measures would rely on the candour of bad actors, which seems unrealistic. What’s far more likely is that this will weigh on America’s efforts to recapture its share of the growing global travel market.”
Elsewhere, organisations like Visit Orlando and Destination DC have publicly questioned the proposals and others are likely to follow suit. But in doing so, they must avoid focusing merely on visitor numbers. Those aligned to the meetings industry should remind policy-makers that making life difficult for foreign delegates will have an adverse effect on the valuable knowledge transfer that occurs at international meetings, particularly academic, professional and scientific meetings.
America is playing a dangerous game here, jeopardising commonly-held assumptions about its values, its defence of freedom of speech and respect for difference. But really it’s simple: if attending an international meeting in America meant handing over my entire social media profile to the US authorities, then I would not attend the meeting. End of. Others will surely feel the same.
AMI editor James
Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international
association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation
for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk,
read, listen to music, and drink beer.