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.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Takver.

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.


4 thoughts on “Social Media and the Refugee Crisis

  1. Hey Rebecca,
    Thanks for writing this post about the Syrian refugee crisis. I really enjoyed it. You bring up a lot of good points about the layer of discussion to the debate that social media really is responsible for bringing. I agree with you that a lot of people’s positions were changed, or at least reconsidered, after the picture of the boy on the beach in Greece went viral. Another big moment in the crisis that was brought to us by social media was when Hungarian journalist Petra Laszlo was fired after amateur video showed her tripping refugees as they were running past the border. If Laszlo was to be seen as representative of traditional media, it was not a good look. And to pull back from this and think locally, consider a country like the Czech Republic. Our popular center right and our center left newspapers are both owned by the same man, who also has heavy influence on the government. In this situation, it’s a very good thing we have citizen journalists with camera phones and Twitter accounts that can keep an eye on things.
    Thanks again,

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    There’s something very intriguing that goes on when crises like these emerge and the media latches onto visuals such as women and children. The photos we choose to display on newspapers and tabloids depict views on certain issues, and when this specific photo emerged, websites and news sites alike seemed to have an incredible reaction to the little boy. Perhaps it is the emotional atrocity—how could society allow this to happen to an innocent three year old? Or perhaps it is a collective guilt that we feel when we realize warfare doesn’t just affect those at the frontline, but it’s also trickled down to every bit of society, even those too young to understand.

    It’s disturbing that attention is immediately amplified when it comes to images of children, and it’s almost exploitive. When pictures of adult refugees are shared on news sites, they don’t garner such impassioned responses, and I think that’s both problematic and hypocritical. Why is it easier for society to ignore a human’s suffering if they are older in age? To what extent is shock-factor okay in media to finally get people to acknowledge one of the largest population displacements in modern history?

    The photo is jarring, yes, but it is our reaction to the photo and lack of reaction to other photos in media depicting the people of the Syrian Refugee Crisis that is worrisome. Are we a generation that relies on the pathos of a photo to become involved in modern events? Have we been so over-stimulated by visuals that it’s become easy to ignore pictures that don’t involve the rhetoric of an innocent child victimized by warfare?

    It is possible we have reached a modern age where visuals must have a certain degree of emotional resonance before recognition is achieved. And ethically, I think this is a problem—with how we consume media, and how we produce media. Though the photo does bring a lot of attention to current events and conversation and dialogue regarding the crisis seem to have picked up after this photo was taken, it’s hard to say if people are truly interested with the cause, or merely swept up in an emotional wave. Hopefully it’s the former.

    Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

    Thanks for the post!



  3. In response to the other comments on this post, I think an important video released about children and the current refugee crisis was Save The Children’s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSIpARmq2WI). The video imagines London as Syria in its current state. It “follows a little girl for one second every year” to show, in effect, that Syria’s situation could exist in western nations. This I think is an important reality check for some of the response to the crisis. The refugee crisis is not an issue in isolation – it could happen anywhere. Hopefully, social media is opening the eyes of people in Europe and America and reminding us that the refugee crisis is not so far removed from us.

    So yes, while I think we are heavily reliant on “the pathos of a photo” to take action, I would argue that if even one more person were inspired to get involved, then we are better for it. Social media has allowed us a chance to not only see issues from anywhere around the world, but also to play a part in the dialog. When we see something, we can say something and encourage others to get involved as well.

    Additionally, I think that though Tammy’s concerns that we are swept up in an emotional wave versus truly interested in a cause are well founded, they don’t necessarily have to be true. I think that if we’re able to create such a strong emotional wave and reaction to events, we can get more people than ever before involved. It doesn’t have to be either emotional impact or interest. True activism is passion as well as emotion. In the case of the refugee crisis, I think social media has proven as a great bridge between activism and emotional impact. True compassion and activism can be found all over the world, if only we are made aware of what’s going on. And social media has the power to do this.

  4. In response to Riley,
    I completely agree. It always takes going the extra mile to gain people’s’ attentions, but I do not think this is a bad thing. When people are exposed to an event that impacts the entire world, it is hard to know what to do right away. This is a serious issue that was discussed for months prior to any action being taken. I can see why it would be upsetting that this photo of a child triggers such a quick response, but the refugee crisis was still talked about for a long time before the image surfaced on various media sources.

    I find this particular instance to be one in which slacktivism is actually not as prominent as it has been in other international affairs. For example, we’ve spoken in class about the KONY 2012 video and also the Black Lives Matter movement, which went viral across the world, in which it was clear that slacktivism played a key role in the failures of both movements to become successful. In the case of the current refugee crisis however, it seems as though people have been taking action and doing what they can to help. Whether or not this was sparked by one single photo shouldn’t matter – as Riley said, in the end the crisis is being aided in one way or another.

    On a different note, I find Rebecca’s post to be especially interesting because it seems as though we’ve reached an age in which connecting through social media or by cellular device is almost as important as having food and water. The donation of the mobile-phone charging unit was a particularly valued contribution, showing how important the use of social media has become to the refugees seeking aid and shelter. Not only is being connected through the internet helping to mobilize the refugees as you stated, but it is also crucial for them to be able to contact loved ones and let them know whether or not they are safe. I think being abroad we have all learned how important it is to find wifi when we don’t have cellular data not to scroll mindlessly through Facebook but to ensure that we are able to tell our families that we are okay, and to talk to them after being apart for so long while in a strange new place.

    This raises an interesting question – do we still consider being connected and having smartphones as a privilege or a necessity?

    -Rebecca Brook

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