Migration: a visual map of one month’s Twitter exchanges

(c) Gustave Deghilage (Flickr) Demo, Lausanne, 9 May 2015
Photo (c) Gustave Deghilage (Flickr)

Human migration is one of the most contentious issues of our time.  Whether it’s the plight of refugees seeking sanctuary from civil war and ethnic cleansing; asylum seekers risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean; or the precarious status of European economic migrants living in the UK, the movement of peoples divides societies the world over.

Over the course of 28 days in October 2017 we tracked the engagement between Twitter users as they discussed ‘migration’, and then mapped our findings using a visual representation.

Explore the full map here.

From afar, key clusters leap out.  On the lower half of the map (in light blue) is Nigel Farage, the centre of dense exchanges.  Branching northwards from him, in red, is The Voice of Europe, and southwest of him, in blue, Donald Trump.

In the upper part of the map, others are expressing their views, responding to existing statements, or initiating new threads. At least, that would be a reasonable assumption from all the interwoven activity.  Unfortunately, though, the map doesn’t offer up the content of the tweets, only – by zooming in on each cluster – details of different organisations:  Human Rights Watch, Médecins du Monde, Belgium Young Diplomats, EU Council TV News, EU Observer, Danish Refugee Council, Migration Matters, The Financial Times, World Bank Turkey, Noticias Venezuela, and others that have participated in exchanges.

Searching through Twitter for the nature of the content of the tweets, October saw numerous quarterly reports published about migration flows.  Government organisations discussed ‘migration’ in relation to New Zealand, Libya, Syria, and other parts of the world, including Europe.

On 31 October 2017 (the last day of the month being monitored), the IOM – UN Migration Agency issued a statement about the number of people arriving on Europe’s shores, by sea, in 2017.  Their tweet, which was retweeted 87 times, stated:

‘Breaking:  149,785 #migrants & # refugees arrived by sea to Europe.  2,826 dead/missing.

The agency gave a link to ‘Missing Migrants’ website.  The Missing Migrants Project tracks incidents involving migrants, including refugees and asylum-seekers, who have died or gone missing in the process of migration towards an international destination.

So, what are the findings?

On the one hand the map, which is visually striking – it could pass as a postmodern work of art – offers up information.  It shows interconnections between people – how groups and individuals have engaged with a particular topic.  Closer analysis yields up names, and with patience it might be possible to match up each contributor with what they had written.

On the other hand, it guards its neutrality.  What weight should be given to the frenzied activity around a few individuals?  Does it reflect influence, or the capacity to generate knee-jerk reactions?

Was October 2017 a representative month, in terms of capturing exchanges about one of the most pressing humanitarian issues of the early 21st century by key players from across the political spectrum worldwide?  Or is it an arbitrary ‘snapshot’ of exchanges about migration, which happened to have taken place in October 2017? How speculative is it to interpret a circle of engagement as inward-looking:  an ‘echo-chamber’?

The map’s surface accessibility is its appeal.  It provides an intriguing glimpse of a future where everyone’s conversations are recorded, along with their thoughts.  Or perhaps that is now? If the map represented an international criminal network, detectives would have a field day sifting through the data.

For a researcher in ‘migration’, the data might offer fresh leads; and snapshots from other months, or key periods give yardsticks for comparison.

In the meantime, in the first two months of this year (to 27 Feb 2018), the Missing Migrants website records 651 migrant fatalities. The causes of death, by region, ranged from drowning and hypothermia in the Mediterranean, to frostbite in the Middle East, vehicle accident in Africa and ‘unknown (skeletal remains)’ in the Americas.

Enough talk, time for action?

Further Information

No Human is Illegal. Tee-shirts produced by the SOAS Solidarity with Refugees and Displaced People Society

No Human is Illegal

Degree programmes:

MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies 

MSc in Migration, Mobility and Development

Development Studies

Gender Studies

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