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The role of social media in Europe’s migrant crisis

Thursday 5 November 2015, by SIGNIS

London, Brussels, November 5th, 2015 (Hanover/Kemi Akindele/SIGNIS) In 2010, the world witnessed the power of social media during the Arab Spring. It was the first time that international news coverage of such a large-scale crisis was led by people on the ground sharing videos and photos via social media.

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Kemi Akindele

Now, in 2015, the defining image in Europe’s migrant crisis—that prompted outrage, encouraged action and sparked an international outcry over the human cost of the crisis—was the tragic image of a young boy lying face down on the beach in early September. This image was soon trending across social media and shared by users including Peter Bouckaert, Emergency Director at Human Rights Watch, whose tweet was retweeted 2,339 times. In order to illustrate the ways social media can be used to tell the different sides of one story, Kemi Alkindele have looked at its use through the lens of migrants, journalists and the general public.

Migrants use social media to plan, warn and prepare

Migrants are using smartphones and social media to help then map their journeys to Europe, or to find where to sleep and eat. Dependent on their needs, different social platforms are being used, for example WhatsApp, to stay in contact with relatives, phone GPS systems and photos to help them make their way across borders and Facebook for group chats which contain queries around advice on what, where and who to avoid on the long journey North.

Journalists use images, text and video to depict the plight of migrants

Journalists reporting on the migrant crisis are not only sticking to Twitter, they are utilising the likes of Instagram and Snapchat to illustrate the human impact of the crisis.
Eleanor Beardsley, reporting for NPR, has been regularly updating her Instagram account with images from the train stations of Budapest and Vienna, illustrating what life is like for refugees stuck inside the train stations.
BBC Panorama has documented the crisis through Snapchat. Run by Ravin Sampat, senior audience engagement producer for BBC Current Affairs, the account — bbcpanorama — posted pictures and videos during its weeklong coverage, which ended on September 14. Snapchat users were able to view these posts for 24 hours before they disappeared.

The public use digital to galvanise support from citizens across Europe
From online petitions to an “AirBnB-type” Facebook group for people to share their homes with refugees, social media has united people from all across Britain and Europe to support the migrants. The hashtag #refugeeswelcome was the top trending search on Twitter in early September – with more than 100,000 tweets – as people shared messages of support with the aim of increasing pressure on politicians to take action.

The nature of social media to empower populations in crises, galvanise public support and inform real-time needs will continue to play a significant role in humanitarian crises, but the longer term impact on the migrant crisis is still yet to be seen.

We now read news in a whole new way with social media, specifically Twitter, becoming the go to source for the latest news updates. As time has gone on we have seen news break on Twitter first and it is fast becoming the quickest way to see change.

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