the syrian refugee crisis

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The Syrian Refugee Crisis on Social Media

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IntroductionSince the crisis of the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, millions of people have been displaced and well over four million refugees have left their war-torn country, fleeing predominantly to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, as well as across several European Union countries. To put into context the difficulties facing refugees fleeing the violence and collapsed infrastructure in Syria, this Google Maps perspective of a refugees journey from Aleppo, Syria to Horgos, Serbia shows a 452 hour (50 day) journey, walked, covering over 1,400 miles.Contents


European Response

Who is talking about the refugee crisis on social?

Arab Response







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The Syrian refugee situation is one the biggest and toughest humanitarian crisis faced today, with more than twelve million people directly affected and many more influenced around the world. At Crimson Hexagon and with recently acquired partner in the UAE, E-Nor, we look to measure the worlds response to a rapidly deteriorating situation using insights derived from the largest source of raw and unsolicited opinion - social media.

In this report we investigate the European and Middle Eastern social media reaction to the crisis.

Through our Twitter partnership we have been able to access historical data from the start of the Syrian crisis. The analysis is conducted with Crimson Hexagons unique language agnostic capabilities, looking for patterns and training our algorithm on posts and mentions of the crisis. At first glance, swings in perceived sentiment for and against refugees seem like an insurmountable challenge to measure and analyse. However, deeper analysis of social media can show potential ways forward and solutions.

Since the uprising of the Syrian Civil War and first instances of refugees fleeing the country in 2011, to the end of 2015, there have been over 20 million posts1 in English on Twitter alone, globally, in relation to the crisis. 70% of these posts mention refugees. The largest number of posts sourced from Europe came from the UK, Turkey, France, and Germany, and from the Arab countries Lebanon, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

Notably, when compared to the collective total of all posts since the start of the civil war, over 60% of those posts mentioning refugees in relation to the Syrian crisis occurred between September-December 2015. If we look at the timeline, we see two incidents contributed to this substantial increase in posts. Firstly, the emergence of the photograph of three-year-old Aylan Al-Kurdis drowned body on a Turkish shore on the 2nd of September, 2015, and secondly, the coordinated terrorist in Paris France on the 13th of November, 2015.

1 Query measuring varying mentions of the Syrian Civil War and refugees, including mentions of Bashar Al-Assad and major Syrian cities in relation to the war/crisis and incorrect use of terms such as migrants and immigrants.

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The image of Aylan Al-Kurdi caused grave international concern and a harsh awareness of the terrible reality of the crisis. To an optimist, the huge level of activity following the tragedy indicates a raised awareness among the global communities of the crisis in Syria and an increased desire to find a resolution. Meanwhile, the second sharp rise in mentions following the Paris attacks could be more pessimistically perceived as associated with dissipating sympathies due to the attacks being initially linked directly to Syrian refugees.

Ultimately, the reality of the above is that there are highly complex and varying emotions at play in both situations. By capitalising on the insights derived from social data, we are able to more accurately measure the conversations around the crisis in increased detail.

Using street-level geolocation on all Syrian Twitter accounts reveals a powerfully poignant snapshot of the mass movement of Syrians into Turkey. The illustration clearly portrays the number of Syrian refugees displaced into Turkey by the conflict.

Mentions of refugees in relation to the Syrian Civil War in 2015.

Feb 2015


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Jun 2015 Aug 2015 Oct 2015Apr 2015



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In March 2015, we noted a 55% decline in overall Twitter usage in Syria - which is clearly no coincidence given the exodus. The remaining Twitter users in Syria top conversations appear to center around what they fear losing the most and communicating with the outside world.

Syrian Twitter accounts in huge numbers shown in Turkey during the height of the crisis.

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Looking closely at the two most populated Syrian cities, heavily-destructured Aleppo and the capital Damascus, reveals a dissipated and almost desolate level of activity.

Twitter activity in Aleppo, Syrias most populated city prior to the conflict, and Damascus, the capital.

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A quick look at the authors breakdown on Twitter also offers a nugget of insight. There are over 5000 daily authors and rising, but the average posts per author never exceeds two. So this is clearly a matter discussed by a large, critical mass of people, rather than a handful of dedicated accounts.

Breakdown of daily Twitter authors mentioning the refugee crisis and average number of posts per author.

Daily Twitter authors

Aug 2015









11 12 13 14 15 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 1 2 317




Average posts / author

Very few crises within the European Union in recent years can rival the magnitude and supranational nature of the Syrian refugee crisis. In this section we look into the European response on social media over the last five years.

European Response

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The above illustration shows an aggregate analysis of English language posts across Europe. Here we reveal a number of key themes to explore. We demonstrate the invaluable ability that social analytics has in scaling the level of nuance that a complex political problem carries.

By tapping into historical data, we are able to decipher if there was a shift in mood relating to the crisis, where/if a shift in opinion occurred, and what might have influenced this evolution - as particularly exhibited following the image of Aylan Al-Kurdi and in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.

Twitter activity in Europe in 2015

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In this analysis, the breakdown of English posts sourced from Europe is displayed from the first year of the war in Syria into the emergence of the refugee crisis on European shores until December 2015. Neutral news sharing (25%), positive initiatives (31%) and concern about the numbers of refugees arriving (31%) collectively hold 87% of conversation over the five years.

Restricting timeframes and highlighting conversation immediately following the death of Aylan Al-Kurdi and the Paris terror attacks respectively, allows us to highlight how sentiment substantially shifted.

Conversation analysis, English posts in European countries (2011-2015)

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Positvive initiatives

Aylan Al - Kurdi Paris Attacks











Concern of Backlash

Measuring sentiment in the month prior to the emergence of the Aylan Al-Kurdi image allows us to isolate and compare the analysis again. As displayed in the illustration above to the right, we indicate the 722% increase in conversation, with news sharing, positive initiatives and concern over numbers of refugees displaced collectively hold 87% of conversation.

Going on to combine the insights obtained from the breakdown of sentiment towards the crisis to geographical insights using geo-tagging methodology allows us to go further - and understand if certain regions, on average, have a collectively higher social involvement with the refugee crisis.

Conversation sentiment shift following image of Aylan Al-Kurdi and Paris Terror Attacks


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