‘Migrants’ became ‘refugees’ after Aylan Kurdi photo, says study

The shocking image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach transformed the language of the European migration debate as it appeared on 20 millions screens around the world in just 12 hours, according to new social media analysis.

Abdullah Kurdi, father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi. Picture: Getty Images

Researchers at Sheffield University have analysed nearly three million posts which appeared in the wake of the first publication of the photograph in September.

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The team said initial postings by a handful of journalists soon went viral with 53,000 tweets per hour – a social media storm which saw a transformation of the language around what was happening in Europe, with uses of the word “refugee” suddenly outstripping “migrant”.

Farida Vis, director of Sheffield University’s visual social media lab, said: “As soon as we saw the image and the response we felt that something extraordinary was happening.

Dr Vis said they wanted to measure the impact, adding: “Our analysis clearly shows that this story not only engaged a global audience, but that it changed the way social media users talked about the issue of immigration.”