The Role of Social Media in Shaping Solidarity and Compassion Fade: How the Death of a Child Turned Apathy into Action but Distress Took it Away

Emma Thomas, Nicola Cary, Laura G. E. Smith, Russell Spears, Craig McGarty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


An image of drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, was popularly shared through social media and this promoted a surge of solidarity with Syrian refugees in September 2015. However, this response was not sustained. We explore the role of social media engagement in the emergence of solidarity and its decline (compassion fade). We collected data when sympathy for refugees was peaking (September 2015), and 1 year later. Latent change score modeling (N = 237) showed that engagement with the image through social media allowed people to form a pro-refugee group consciousness that acted as the proximal predictor of solidarity. However, reductions in the same factors explain the reduced commitment 1 year later. Distress predicted the reductions in social media engagement. The results support the power of social media to ignite world-changing action, but caution that online engagement may dissipate in the face of ongoing challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3778-3798
Number of pages21
JournalNew Media & Society
Issue number10
Early online date26 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • Collective action
  • compassion
  • demobilization
  • distress
  • outrage
  • refugees
  • social change
  • social identification
  • social media
  • solidarity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science

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