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Refugee Crisis

Sensationalism in the Digital Age: The Impact on Refugees

Most of us remember the tragic image of Alan Kurdi, but why did Western mainstream media remain relatively silent about the human interest aspect of the Syrian refugee crisis until his picture was broadcast around the world?


The information age has ushered in a shifting media landscape. Traditional news outlets now have to compete with new media and we can see a steady decline in the size of newsrooms as well as the budgets needed to ensure responsible reporting on international events. Lack of funds in this case means that fewer journalists and photographers are available on the ground to report on humanitarian crises as they actually unfold. In a time when pageview journalism seems to be the new norm, the depth and credibility of a piece too often takes a backseat to the amount of advertising revenue a piece of content can generate.


Reporters who do work on the ground often put their lives on the line to report on conflicts and human rights abuses. They are increasingly targeted, much like humanitarian workers.


A lack of in-depth storytelling, coupled with a media environment that rewards sensationalism over quality and nuanced journalism has created the conditions for hate speech and anti-refugee sentiment to proliferate.


The fact is that Western nations are legally obligated to provide adequate refuge to those who are forcefully displaced. At the same time however, a simple Google search reveals that the media often depicts the crisis as a “flood” of so-called migrants into Europe and elsewhere who pose an imminent threat to the societies they try to enter. This representation is in spite of the fact that refugee resettlement is the least likely route for potential terrorists.  


Often the scope of the crisis, quantified by numbers of fleeing people, is reported on far more frequently than stories of individual suffering and persecution. It’s these stories that have the power to provide context to the crisis.


In 2015 the Ethical Journalism Network published Moving Stories, an extensive 100-page report that reviewed coverage of the worldwide refugee and migrant crisis. It is prefaced with the position that migration is an inevitable aspect of the human experience, and details the many shortcomings of the media covering these events. The report states:


There is a tendency, both among many politicians and in sections of the mainstream media, to lump migrants together and present them as a seemingly endless tide of people who will steal jobs, become a burden on the state and ultimately threaten the native way of life. Such reporting is not only wrong; it is also dishonest. Migrants often bring enormous benefits to their adopted countries.


However, the rise of nationalist politics worldwide—most notably in the recent US election of Donald Trump—has been mirrored by the same transformation in the media. Headlines of major media outlets are hijacked by racist, grossly reductive, and sensationalist remarks. Slanted news about refugees and immigrants has no doubt fueled xenophobia and obscured a well-rounded picture of events. Take, for instance, Trump’s oft-quoted assertion that the United States should “ban all Muslims” coming into the country. Stories of his remarks, whether positive or negative, almost entirely eclipsed the individual stories of refugees and immigrants during the course of the US election. Instead of a balanced, human, and nuanced perspective, media coverage has presented refugees and migrants as imminent threats that exist in a vacuum, unworthy of sympathy or refuge.


The United States is not the only country where populist rhetoric has hijacked media coverage. Anti-refugee sentiment can be seen throughout the European Union as well; Poland and Hungary are two notable examples. In Germany, false accusations regarding refugees have grown so numerous that two people set up a website known as Hoax Map to help dispel absurd rumors about refugees. Some of the debunked rumors ranged from stories of refugees killing and eating horses, to far more disturbing events involving sexual assault. When these unverified rumors hit the headlines, there are real-world consequences, like when protests are sparked in response to false accusations.


The fact is that journalists and news companies need to expand the scope of responsible and in-depth reporting to accurately disseminate information about important global events. While Syria is now dominating the headlines, the media remains relatively silent about other major humanitarian crises. News of the conflicts in Yemen and South Sudan and the famine in Ethiopia are just a few examples of underreported crises.


A greater emphasis on grassroots, individual storytelling is needed to paint an accurate picture of events, and refugees need the space to tell their own stories. Individual stories are powerful. Without them, these crises cannot be fully understood.


In the absence of well-rounded, factual stories, racism and anti-refugee sentiment is bound to continue en masse. The media is perceived as being objective, and as long as unsubstantiated claims about migration continue to spread, anti-refugee sentiment is bound to continue and the world will continue to turn a blind eye to the devastation of humanitarian crises.


Feb 6, 2017
Category: Thematic Issues

PeaceTalks #29: Refugee Crisis and Media Hype

Guest Speaker:
Majd Agha, Shayna Plaut, Caroline Dailly, Zool Suleman
Nov 4, 2015
6:00 - 7:30PM
Hootsuite Offices

On September 2, 2015, the body of Alan Kurdi, a young Syrian boy, washed up on a Turkish beach. His body was photographed and the photo circulated worldwide.

In the coming weeks, a media blitz on the refugee crisis took the world by storm. Everyone was talking about the Syrian refugee crisis - what could be done, how individuals and governments could help, how the world could have turned a blind eye for so long.

But in the wake of all that coverage, what has changed? Did the media make a difference? Have we finally begun to give the biggest refugee situation since World War II the attention it deserves?

PeaceGeeksAmnesty International and Hootsuite present PeaceTalks #29: Refugee Crisis and Media Hype, a discussion of the refugee crisis and what can be done to effect real change.

Speakers include:

- Caroline Dailly, Manager at Immigrant Services Society of BC
- Zool Suleman, Immigration Lawyer & Policy Consultant
- Shayna Plaut, Simons Research Fellow, International Law & Human Security SFU
- Majd Agha, one of the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Vancouver

Thank You To:
Partnership With:
Nov 14, 2015
Category: PeaceTalks
Time 2:
6 PM

New Paths: How Social Media & Technology are Changing Refugee Journeys

For many, the words ‘social media’ conjure images of cat videos, photos of acquaintance’s dinner plates and hashtags on Twitter. But social media’s potential as a tool for information dissemination and individual empowerment is vast and only beginning to be recognized. Social media and communication technologies present an opportunity for individuals and institutions to challenge powerful political actors and enhance the efforts of an organized public sphere. Social media provides additional strategies for digital refugees to flee dangerous situations. It eases access to information, facilitates group coordination and supports free public speech. It helps organized groups share knowledge and mobilize members efficiently.

Social media empowers any user of an internet-connected device to quickly and independently publish information. It can be an effective tool to help displaced citizens assume control over available communications systems and regain the power to control information flow, maintain a sense of social stability, protect the vulnerable and address the public sphere.
Social media has become an essential tool for Syrian refugees and the organizations trying to support them. Mobile phone use is the predominant method of communication among Syrians and 49% of citizens in the Middle East have internet access (^). There are approximately 87 registered phones per 100 residents in the region.

Not all refugees have access to social media. In Africa, only 27% of the population has access to the internet and certain areas, like Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, have access rates of less than 25%. In places like these, social media is less effective as a strategy for refugees.

Syrian refugees make use of technology to communicate with aid actors and with each other. They use sites like Google Maps to navigate politically and geographically complex routes to sanctuary. First-hand stories told in images and sound bites also help bring refugee experiences directly to the global community in a vivid way. That community can then use social media to share posts and links; volunteers and refugees can share firsthand content to makes appeals for aid and document abuses.

Twitter categorizes shared posts and links, making it easier for many-to-many conversations and opinion sharing to occur. Currently, the top three refugee-related hashtags are #syria, #humanrights and #refugee.

For more in-depth conversations and engagement, Facebook is the user’s choice. Individuals can post content and have one-on-one conversations within organized groups; they can share relevant posts and participate in multi-layered conversations. 

Zaatari Camp Coordination is a Facebook page that functions as a media outlet for the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which currently accommodates more than 80, 000 refugees. The Facebook translate feature gives non-Arabic speakers access to the events and conditions in the busy camp. The UN High Commission on Refugees says that Facebook use by ground level coordinators is an efficient distribution method and better for information that requires trust than Twitter; however, information published on FB does not elicit the degree of trust that face-to-face conversation does. The reliability of the information source is crucial, especially when bad information can  mean the worst outcome.

Social media and communication technology can make it easier for refugees to make their way to a new life but not all refugees have access to these tools. Those with low incomes may not be able to afford the necessary devices. Some refugees originate from areas where there is little access to the internet. The challenge is to reflect on internet penetration statistics as a rough measure of power in the public sphere and to provide connectivity to all.  Internet and social media is increasingly seen as an important human right. Accessibility and evenness of distribution is integral to the role of social media and communication technology as a global, humanitarian asset.

Communication technology can facilitate groundbreaking social change  in situations where the infrastructure and integrity of traditional media has been compromised. Social media places the power of storytelling in the hands of any individual with a capable device and an internet connection. It creates the potential for a well-rounded public sphere and provides an excellent wayfinding system for refugees in transit - but only if Internet and social media are accessible and uncensored.

Nov 9, 2015

#GiveItUp4Peace Fundraiser at The Portside Pub

Guest Speaker:
Nov 19, 2015
6:00 11:00pm
The Portside Pub

For the month of November, we're daring Vancouverites to give up some part of their daily lives to help us raise money to help support refugees, through initiatives like our Services Advisor app.

To celebrate your efforts, we're thrilled to bring you the #GiveItUp4Peace mid-campaign fundraising event!

FABULOUS silent auction!

Exciting LIVE Entertainment from The Werewolves!

AMAZING photobooth by ImageCube!

TASTY treats & LUSCIOUS libations for your enjoyment!

We look forward to seeing you there!

For more information on how you can get involved in our campaign please visit our website.


Event Video:
Oct 29, 2015
Category: Fundraising
Time 2:
6 PM
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