Though social media is often used in an entertaining and lighthearted way, in some cases it can actually provide crucial help to people who are in desperate need. In recent months, Europe has experienced what has been dubbed a ‘Refugee Crisis’ as an estimated 750,000 people have arrived in Europe from violence stricken countries, in particularly Syria. This influx of refugees has resulted in tension and unrest in Europe regarding how to deal with this displaced group. Social media has played a large role in shaping and framing the crisis from many different angles. Journalists and news organizations have utilized various forms of social media to cover the crisis, people across the world have been influenced and informed by provocative images and information that has been posted, and the refugees themselves have also utilized social media.
In the case of Refugee Crisis, social media can be seen as having practical and even life saving powers. An article posted by the Express Tribune titled ‘The Refugee Crisis: The Power of Social Media’, calls Facebook the “silent savior’ for refugees, as there are Facebook pages dedicated to providing critical information to refugees such as which officials they should contact and how, what they should take with them on their dangerous journey, and the steps they should take once they reach their destination. The article also points out how Facebook is used by refugees while they are at sea, to issue distress calls when needed. The Financial Times points out how useful, important, and essential the donation of a solar powered phone charging unit was to a group of refugees camped out at a train station in Budapest, as it allowed the refugees to stay connected to the internet and the vital information they receive via social media.
Not only is social media helping to physically mobilize refugees, but it has also mobilized the mass support for the struggling refugees in many cases. One well-known case was when a photograph of a dead three year-old Syrian refugee boy, washed up dead on a beach in Greece, went viral on social media, to the outrage and distress of viewers. Hereandnow.com published an article that discusses the disturbing image, and social media’s affect on public opinion, stating, “Social media, and one photo in particular, have played a central role in galvanizing public attention around Europe’s migrant crisis”. The article discusses how The Independent, a well-know UK newspaper, decided to publish the photo on the front page, and how it may have helped change the position of Prime Minister Cameron and his position regarding the refugees.
Journalists have also been active on social media about the crisis as it has unfolded. The International Journalists’ Network published an article online which profiles journalists at respected news organizations, and how they have used social media to cover the refugee crisis. These journalists from organizations such as Vice, Al Jeezera, and the Washington Post, have been using outlets like Twitter to share videos and images of their first-hand experiences with the crisis. These journalists often post multiple times a day, keeping their followers up to date. BBC has integrated another method of giving followers the closest thing to live-updates as possible, with the utilization of the Snapchat account bbcpanorama.
Though the use of social media as both a source of news and as a catalyst of public activism is debatable and contested, the Refugee Crisis is an example where social media has had a seemingly positive effect. Though the argument of ‘clicktivism’ is a valid one, the Facebook pages that have been created are in fact providing useful information, so this can be seen as a case where social media has created positive change.
Featured Image courtesy of Flickr user robertsharp.