Research on Migrant Representation in Media

Social media are increasingly part of people’s routine, but its use and dynamics can violate human rights. These researches explore how platforms’ models of governance and algorithms can lead to severe intrusions of fundamental rights such as the rights to equality, non-discrimination and privacy, and can escalate to new forms of systemic violence.

Including social media, all the media platforms are virtual spaces where people follow the news, exchange their opinion, communicate with friends, look for information and read news. Contrary to the traditional media, such as newspapers and television, social media allows people to create their own online identities, establish their own networks, tell their stories, and contribute to the public debate, bringing it to new directions.

With social media being increasingly part of people’s routine, its use and dynamics have become controversial in terms of violation of fundamental rights, racism, sexism and lack of transparency and accountability. The platforms’ models of governance, and the new forms of content creation and sharing can lead to the severe intrusions on fundamental rights such as the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to privacy and can escalate to new forms of systemic violence. 

The social media infrastructure is defined by opaque algorithms and obscure practices that reinforce stereotypes and create new forms of discrimination that are particularly harmful to the social groups that are marginalised by the power structure. Migrants and refugees are part of the community affected by these new forms of discrimination. Understanding and managing the particular risks connected to the use by, and the representation of refugees and migrants in social media platforms need to be a priority of regulations addressing the digital space. 

For an effective management and mitigation of these risks, it is fundamental to identify and understand how social media’s socio-technical dynamics work, how they manipulate the representation of reality and affect the experience and representation of marginalised communities. This report contributes to this objective, and it is divided into four main sections.

Section 1

Introduces the main topics that will be discussed in this report, it outlines the purpose of the “Re:framing Migrants in the European Media” project and explains how this report is aligned with it. It presents the approach on which the report is based and the key definitions of the lexicon used.

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Section 2

Identifies and discusses the key social media dynamics that affect the representation of marginalised populations on social media. It provides an overview of how social media algorithmic dynamics works, how they silence marginalised communities and where bias affecting them can arise. It illustrates stories of discrimination, silencing of voices and manipulation of reality. To this end, this section is structured around four themes: content moderation, shadowban, content selection and sharing, and targeted advertisement.

Section 3

Focuses on the migrant and refugees’ population. It shows how social media plays an important role in shaping new forms of migration and how this can represent a danger for migrants


The research by por Causa aims to understand the representative framework of the narrative on migrants and refugees in the European media. Madrid based foundation, por Causa is adopting the sustainable development goals in its work strategy.

The actions that have been carried out are framed in a mapping and gap analysis that has as deliverable a library of existing research and initiatives on media representation of marginalised communities. 

The steps followed to achieve the objectives consisted of two phases. The first phase, called existing information, consisted of collecting, filtering and analysing existing information on the representation of migrants and refugees in the European press. 

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The second phase of the research focused on the construction of archetypes on the representation of migrants and refugees in the European press. 

In this research a total of 123 news items were analysed in six languages – Spanish, English, Arabic, French, Italian, German and French – filtered by the following keywords such as: migration, refugees, boat, border, fence, crime, heroes, Islamo-gauchisme. Once the search for information had been completed, the most relevant sections were filtered in order to construct the archetypes on the representation of migrants and refugees in the European press. A total of 47 news items were used to create the archetypes. You can see the complete database from the link

In this media representation research, seven archetypes were detected in the European press regarding the representation of migrants and refugees and the four archetypes of how migrants and refugees are perceived in the European press are: normalisation, victimisation, burden, and threat. 


According to a 2019 study conducted by the UN Migration Agency (IOM) and the Moving Picture Company (MPC), refugees and migrants are often portrayed negatively in popular media, including YouTube.

The study found that refugees and migrants are frequently depicted as “victims or perpetrators of violence, criminals or economic burdens, with little focus on their individual stories, personalities, or achievements.” Furthermore, many videos on YouTube that discuss refugees and migrants often use language that reinforces negative stereotypes and encourages fear and hostility towards these groups.

Re:framing Migrants in the European Media’s partner organisation Eticas, worked on the report sought to understand several key questions: How are migrants and refugees represented in the top-watched YouTube videos? Do YouTube’s search and recommendation algorithms suggest differently framed migration videos in different national settings? Do YouTube’s search and recommendation algorithms suggest differently framed migration videos to migrant and non-migrant accounts? How do individuals with a migrant background perceive the portrayal of migrants in YouTube videos?

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AUDITING SOCIAL MEDIA: (In)visibility of Political Content on Migration by ETICAS

Researchers from ETICAS set out to investigate political expression on the topic of migration on social media through an adversarial algorithmic audit of TikTok, one of the most popular and influential social media platforms today. The main objectives of the audit are (1) to examine the impact of TikTok’s recommender system on political discourse on migration and (2) to uncover the extent to which TikTok’s recommendation algorithm promotes content across different political profiles, locations, and over time.

Over the course of five months, ETICAS researchers created nine TikTok accounts in three locations in the United States with different political leanings, and they trained the accounts by watching, liking, and sharing videos, and following content creators with different attitudes towards migration. Following this, the researchers scraped data about the recommended content on each of the accounts’ “For You” feed at three separate points before, during, and after the U.S. midterm election.

“This approach allowed us to examine the TikTok recommendation algorithm across political profiles, locations, and over time. Importantly, it also enabled us to track whether and how the platform recommended political content related to migration across different settings, and how this influences the representation of migrants on social media,” said ETICAS authors.

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Obfuscation is the practice of making something difficult to understand, often to protect intellectual property or sensitive information. This can be done through techniques such as replacing variable names with random characters or encrypting data. Obfuscation is commonly used in computer programming to protect intellectual property, but it can also be used maliciously. In the report below, researchers analyse different obfuscation techniques through semi-structured interviews and challenge the increased hyper-surveillance of the migrant community.

The issue of justice in migratory movements has been the subject of debate and policy interventions in Europe and around the world. Migrants are often framed as a security threat, which has resulted in increased surveillance and heightened concerns around surveillance measures.

Mitchel Njoki, Francesca Trevisan, and Gemma Galdon Clavell, the authors of the ETICAS report on the problem of social media surveillance as it concerns migrant populations, highlight the obfuscation techniques they use to preserve their privacy and protect themselves, along with three other contributing authors: Evren Yalaz, Patricia Vazquez, and Emilia Paesano.

Obfuscation techniques can include methods such as encrypting data and replacing variable names with random characters, which can aid in protecting intellectual property rights but can also be used for malicious purposes. The report assesses the obfuscation and divergence techniques utilised by migrant communities and explores existing ways of subverting social media dynamics to make them work for migrant and refugee populations. It also engages in a literature review and interviews with key stakeholders to deepen the understanding of these informal practices. Overall, the report seeks to reinforce migrant data rights and return control of their data and narratives on their lives back to migrants.

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The representation of migrants and refugees is different in the European press. An analysis of the press in the different European countries shows that the Austrian, Czech and Slovak media portray refugees as a threat to the security and economy of the country. In the case of the Spanish press, solidarity towards refugees is shown in the context of victimisation. To learn more information about the researches you can follow the Re:framing Media in the European Media.