Framing migrants and refugees

How do the media shape public perceptions of refugees and migrants?

December 12, 2021

Migrants, refugees, and survivors of human trafficking

International migration has always been a sensitive political topic, and rarely more so than in recent years. With global numbers of refugees and displaced persons reaching record heights, the special position of refugees and asylum seekers within the broader migration context is often fraught. Our work on this issue focuses on understanding how politicians and the public in different countries think about refugees and refugee policy, including whether they think of refugees differently from migrants more generally.

This question is particularly important as refugees have well-defined rights under international humanitarian law, and confusion about their status and rights has potentially significant implications on a policy level, but also for specific individuals.

Relatedly, we are interested in another context where people often cross borders in a way that affects their human rights status: human trafficking. Although not all human trafficking involves the crossing of national borders, much of it does. Here, too, the degree to which policy-makers and the public are able to distinguish correctly between trafficking victims, refugees, and “regular” migrants is of crucial importance.

For this project, we have papers in progress on similarities and differences in the way refugees and migrants are framed in different newspapers across several countries.

Celebrities and humanitarianism

Celebrities often speak out on humanitarian issues. Sometimes their commitment is genuine; sometimes it appears calculated. In either case, their presence in and contributions to ongoing debates about these issues may change how the public thinks about the issues (and about the celebrities themselves). We are interested in investigating more systematically how celebrities affect debates surrounding an issue. We do so by looking at social media as well as op-eds in mainstream newspapers and official testimony at government hearings.

Migration and misinformation

We have studied social media discussion of so-called migrant caravans, with a particular emphasis on how public opinion leaders have shaped these discussions. Building on this, we have broadened our investigation to the issue of misinformation about immigration more generally, investigating several false claims about immigration and their spread through the social media sphere. Here we use topic modeling to home in on specific claims and then use collocation and network analysis tools to investigate the spread of these claims.