Refugees were framed as terrorists or rapists in a politicised far-right representation on Twitter that dominated more humanitarian approaches during the 2015-2016 refugee crisis, an academic study has suggested.
A study involving researchers at Dublin City University and in Greece goes on to suggest that even before receiving the Republican party nomination for the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump was prominent in hashtags used around the situation.
Their article, published last March in the Social Media + Society journal, points to the marginal role played by most Twitter users in the debate as the top accounts disproportionately influence the social media platform.
Eugenia Siapera, lead author of the research, and DCU Institute for Future Media and Journalism colleague, Jane Suiter, produced the study with two researchers from the University of Patras in Greece.
Their analysis of almost 7.5 million tweets and hashtags around three significant news stories related to refugees from November 2015 to March 2016 found that two main versions emerged on Twitter.
In one, “a frame politicised from a far-right perspective”, refugees were framed as terrorists or rapists “following along the lines of representations that mobilise security and safety". A humanitarian frame, created by humanitarian organisations, activists and some mainstream media, revolved around human rights.
Despite the sampled tweets being skewed to the refugee-friendly part of the debate, the researchers found that they included a set of far-right hashtags associated with politicians with a clear anti-refugee stance, like Donald Trump.
“It is worth recalling the dataset dates from before Trump gained the Republican nomination. While it is likely that overall a number of tweets will be positive or neutral, the debate seems to be politicised from a far-right Islamophobic perspective that associates refugees with terrorism and to some extent with sexual assault,” they wrote.
“Political views that link refugees to other forms of crisis and exploitation seem to be lost. Humanitarian concerns are there, but the relevant tags are fewer than the political ones,” the article read.
The research also found that US-based far-right hashtags were prominent, such as #tcot (top conservatives on Twitter), #WakeUpAmerica and #PjNet (Patriot Journalist Network), and #Pegida used by supports of the far-right German political party.
“These point to the politicisation of the refugee crisis and to the rising influence of the far right,” the research article said.