Images tip language use to ‘refugee’ according to researchers at Sheffield University

The shocking image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach transformed the language of the European migration debate as it appeared on 20m screens around the world in just 12 hours, according to social media analysis.

Researchers at Sheffield University have analysed nearly 3m posts which appeared in the wake of the first publication of the photograph in September.

The team said initial postings by a handful of journalists soon went viral with 53,000 tweets per hour — a social media storm which saw a transformation of the language around what was happening in Europe, with uses of the word ‘refugee’ suddenly outstripping ‘migrant’.

Farida Vis, director of Sheffield University’s Visual Social Media Lab, said: “As soon as we saw the image and the response, we felt that something extraordinary was happening.

“We wanted to measure the impact these images have had on the wider public debate about the status of migrants and refugees.

"Our analysis clearly shows that this story not only engaged a global audience, but that it changed the way social media users talked about the issue of immigration.

“We show how a handful of tweets by journalists on the ground grew into a staggering 53,000 tweets per hour as interest in the story went viral.”

Vis and her team used data provided and analysed by the lab’s private sector partner, Pulsar.

Francesco D’Orazio, vice-president of product and research at Pulsar, said: “For most of 2015, the use of the words migrants and refugees was head to head in public conversation, accounting for pretty much the same volume over nine months — 5.2m tweets versus 5.3m tweets.

“From September 2 onward, this radically flipped. The numbers swing dramatically towards a clear focus on refugees — 2.9m tweets and 6.5m tweets.

“Twitter’s ability to act as a catalyst has connected emerging stories and relevant people, helping to develop and connect those audiences on a global scale and make a story go mainstream before the international press has even started to officially cover it.”


Related Articles


Breaking Stories

Teenager held after eight injured in Switzerland axe attack

Thousands of people join march to honour journalist killed by car bomb in Malta

Italy's two richest regions claim victory in autonomy votes

Bodies of at least 65 civilians found in Syrian town taken from IS

Lifestyle

A helicopter put a piano on the 150-foot roof of Blarney Castle and other stories from the Cork Jazz Festival archives

Jazz Memories: Famous faces share their favourite moments

Live music review: The Horrors - Icy genius in a thrillingly intimate setting

Choosing a sheltered spot for Maples is vital

More From The Irish Examiner