Portrayal of Migrants on YouTube

A study recently published by Eticas – one of the partners in the Reframing Migrants in European Media project – present shocking facts about the portrayal of migrants on YouTube.

With more than 2.5 billion followers, YouTube is the second most used social network, and has become one of the main sources of news for many people. This apparent democratization of content is not without risk, due to the impact that this medium has on individual and public attitudes towards migration.

The migration narrative of traditional media has been widely studied, but not the social networks, despite the rapid increase in their users. The studies on social media confirm the same narrative trend: migration as a threat, and the underrepresentation of the migrants themselves when it comes to communicating their own stories. 

A crop of headlines in the media coverage of refugees and migrants in the UK, courtesy of Conversation Over Borders.

This study by Eticas, the first one about migrant representation in YouTube, explores how the platform continues showing a dehumanizing image of migrants and rewards xenophobic narratives, which feeds back into a context of rising far right political discourse.

In the most viewed YouTube videos, migrants are shown as anonymous masses with no recognizable faces to empathize with, mostly non-white adult men, and frequently with the presence of armed forces. At best, they are portrayed as victims without agency. 

You can access the complete study via this link.

A few recommendations from the Eticas team include:

  • YouTube needs to further develop its recommendation system for better minority representation, such as migrants. The capability to independently audit the recommender systems of YouTube and other social networks is a high priority in addressing the issues.
  • YouTube and other social platforms should facilitate researchers or research institutions in accessing necessary internal data in order to study the possible harm or risks that their recommender algorithms can bring.
  • A collaborative effort by public institutions, experts and YouTube itself should better define the set of biases that should not be present in YouTube’s algorithm system, including those based on gender, race, ethnicity, and other factors.
  • Engaging migrant communities in all of the mentioned processes is another suggested step, as our study showed the concerned sentiments of the migrants themselves about their representation or absence in social media.

You can read more on the dedicated Eticas webpage.