The emergence of solidarity with Syrian refugees over time on Twitter

Laura Smith, Craig McGarty, Emma Thomas

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Background: Images of Aylan Kurdi have become emblems of the appalling human suffering of Europe's worst migrant crisis since WWII, representing the atrocity of the Syrian refugee crisis in a way that has appeared to galvanise individuals and increase solidarity with refugees. The aim of this study was to understand how, from the dissemination of a handful of images, individual Twitter users developed a sense of shared solidarity with refugees over time, as evidenced by changes in their linguistic style.

Methods: We harvested all Tweets sent by N=368 UK Twitter users during three time periods. Time 1 was 6th August-1st September 2015 (the week prior to the emergence of the images of Aylan Kurdi). Time 2 was 2nd-8th September 2015 (the week following the first Tweet containing the image of Aylan Kurdi); and Time 3 was immediately following the Paris terror attacks, between 13th-19th November 2015. We used LIWC2015 software to analyse changes in linguistic style across time.

Findings: We found multiple significant changes in linguistic style from T1 to T2 that were maintained at T3, including an increase in assent, changes in pronouns use (e.g., increase in ‘we’ and ‘they’), and concerns about death. Changes in pronoun use at T2 significantly mediated the relationship between T1 language and pro-refugee language at T3.

Discussion: Twitter users’ linguistic style in relation to refugees changed significantly and sustainably after the images of Aylan Kurdi circulated. These changes were consistent with polarized attitudes, and an increase in solidarity around pro-refugee opinions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAcceptance date - 2016
EventBritish Psychological Society Social Section Annual Conference -
Duration: 31 Aug 20162 Sept 2016


ConferenceBritish Psychological Society Social Section Annual Conference


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