Live from the Jungle: Migrants Become Influencers on Social Media

Manuel Monterrosa set out for the United States last year with his cellphone and a plan: He’d record his journey through the dangerous jungle known as the Darién Gap and post it on YouTube, warning other migrants of the perils they’d face.

In his six-part series, edited entirely on his phone along the way, he heads north with a backpack, leading viewers on a video-selfie play-by-play of his passage across rivers, muddy forests and a mountain known as the Hill of Death.

He eventually made it to the United States. But to his surprise, his videos began attracting so many views and earning enough money from YouTube that he decided he no longer needed to live in America at all.

So, Mr. Monterrosa, a 35-year-old from Venezuela, returned to South America and now has a new plan altogether: trekking the Darién route again, this time in search of content and clicks, having learned how to make a living as a perpetual migrant.

“Migration sells,” Mr. Monterrosa said. “My public is a public that wants a dream.”

For more than a decade, cellphones have been indispensable tools for people fleeing their homelands, helping them research routes, find friends and loved ones, connect with smugglers and evade the authorities.

Now, cellphones and social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok are drastically changing the equation once again, fueling the next evolution of global movement.

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