Narratives of the Refugee Crisis: A Comparative Study of Mainstream-Media and Twitter

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Narratives of the Refugee Crisis: A Comparative Study of Mainstream-Media and Twitter


  • Adina Nerghes Digital Humanities Lab, KNAW Humanities Cluster, The Netherlands
  • Ju-Sung Lee Department of Media and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands


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Abstract:  The European refugee crisis received heightened attention at the beginning of September 2015, when images of the drowned child, Aylan Kurdi, surfaced across mainstream and social media. While the flows of displaced persons, especially from the Middle East into Europe, had been ongoing until that date, this event and its coverage sparked a media firestorm. Mainstream-media content plays a major role in shaping discourse about events such as the refugee crisis, while social media’s participatory affordances allow for the narratives to be perpetuated, challenged, and injected with new perspectives. In this study, the perspectives and narratives of the refugee crisis from the mainstream news and Twitter—in the days following Aylan’s death—are compared and contrasted. Themes are extracted through topic modeling (LDA) and reveal how news and Twitter converge and also diverge. We show that in the initial stages of a crisis and following the tragic death of Aylan, public discussion on Twitter was highly positive. Unlike the mainstream-media, Twitter offered an alternative and multifaceted narrative, not bound by geo-politics, raising awareness and calling for solidarity and empathy towards those affected. This study demonstrates how mainstream and social media form a new and complementary media space, where narratives are created and transformed.

Keywords:  mainstream-media; narratives, networks; refugee crisis; social media; Twitter

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v7i2.1983


© Adina Nerghes, Ju-Sung Lee. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.