Twitter was torn over refugees in wake of Paris: study

Analysis of over eight million tweets in hours after attack shows deep divide in sentiment towards refugees and Islam.

The attacks in the French capital on November 13 killed 130 people [EPA]
The attacks in the French capital on November 13 killed 130 people [EPA]

Twitter users were deeply divided on whether the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe – or Islam – could be blamed for the Paris attacks, a new study has shown. 

An analysis of over eight million tweets posted in the aftermath of the event appeared to show that the number of tweets identified as anti-refugee were roughly equal to those identified as sympathetic.

Conducted by the Qatar Computing Research Institute – a non-profit organisation that has collaborated with Google, MIT and Al Jazeera – the research also showed that a majority of tweets coming from the United States were anti-refugee, and that a significant number of US tweets blamed Muslims in general.

Such reactions began to appear in earnest after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks, the study said. 

Some 68 percent of all anti-refugee tweets sent worldwide originated in the US, according to the research. The country with the next highest share of such tweets was the UK at seven percent of the total.

Distribution of anti-refugee tweets

Several rights groups have expressed concern at growing Islamophobia in the US after the Paris attack and a shooting carried out by a Muslim couple in California that killed 14 people.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has labelled Syrian refugees “trojan horses” and another candidate, Ben Carson, has called for screening Syrian refugees like they might be “rabid dogs”.

The most shared anti-refugee tweets were:

Pro-refugee tweets seemed to be significantly more geographically distributed than anti-refugee tweets with many of them being posted from the US, UK, Canada, and Germany.

Anti-refugee tweets disctributed by country [Al Jazeera]

The most retweeted pro-refugee tweets were:

The researchers also identified 900,000 tweets related to Islam and Muslims.

Their findings showed that a majority of the tweets – more than 55 percent – defended Muslims and absolved them of general responsibility for the attacks.

But a considerable number of tweets did blame Islam with Israel, the Netherlands, France, and the US generating a high number of such posts.

The majority of tweets mentioning “Muslims” or “Islam” came from the US (36.5 percent), followed by the UK (12.5 percent), and France (7.5 percent).

The research showed that tweets in the Dutch and Italian languages were the most likely to connect the attacks to Islam.

French was the language with the highest percentage of tweets deemed politically neutral. The researchers said that this was expected “since France was the scene of the attacks and most likely people there were busy following the news and its updates more than anyone else.”

Language distribution

Source: Al Jazeera


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