Abdul Basset Ahmed, 18, took charge of a small inflatable boat crammed with 58 other passengers just days after the British government had announced a crackdown on the brazen social media “promotions”.
Canterbury Crown Court heard that Sudanese fisherman Ahmed had agreed to take control of the rib two days before it set off from France on August 14.
He later told police he was given a “€600 discount” by those in charge of the illicit enterprise for doing so and was in control of the boat from start to finish before it was intercepted by the Border Force, prosecutor Stacey-Lee Holland said.
She said: “He stated he did not know it was illegal to pilot a boat but he knew he was entering the UK illegally. He stated he watched TikTok videos on how to do so.
“He said he was also aware the other passengers in the boat were entering illegally.”
Ahmed pleaded guilty to assisting in the facilitation of unlawful immigration and attempting to arrive in the UK without valid entry clearance.
Just eight days earlier, the government had announced that tech giants including TikTok had signed an initiative to work with the National Crime Agency in finding and removing the criminal adverts.
The adverts reportedly promote a range of illegal routes by dinghy, lorry and plane, as well as offering discounts, free children’s crossings and fake documents.
No details of the video content viewed by Ahmed were revealed in court, however.
The court heard Ahmed had learned to pilot boats as a fisherman in Sudan and then in Tunisia as he travelled across several “safe” countries to reach France.
James Burke, defending, said organised criminals had then “exploited” the teenager’s limited finances and naivety.
He said: “His real intent was simply to make the journey across the Channel, exactly the same as the other 58 people on the boat, and to make a better life for himself in the UK.”
Sentencing Ahmed for two years, Judge Simon James said he believed the main reason he had been charged with the more serious facilitation offence was due to his full and frank admissions.
But he said custody was inevitable in spite of this “complete lack of criminal sophistication” as well as his age, lack of previous convictions, no involvement in any planning of the trip, or any earlier attempts to enter the country illegally.
Of the 59 people in the boat, including Ahmed, 44 were said to have since claimed asylum.
His application is yet to be processed however and any decision will be made by the Home Office on his release.