In recent years, increasing attention has been dedicated to the hazardous and volatile situation in the Middle East, a crisis which has pushed many to flee their countries and seek refuge in neighboring countries or in Europe. In describing or discussing these tragic events, labels such as “European migrant crisis” and “European refugee crisis” started being widely used by the media, politicians, and the online world alike. The use of such labels has the potential to dictate the ways in which displaced people are received and perceived. With this study, we investigate label use in social media (specifically YouTube), the emergent patterns of labeling that can cause further disaffection and tension or elicit sympathy, and the sentiments associated with the different labels. Our findings suggest that migration issues are being framed not only through labels characterizing the crisis but also by their describing the individuals themselves. Using topic modeling and sentiment analysis jointly, our study offers valuable insights into the direction of public sentiment and the nature of discussions surrounding this significant societal crisis, as well as the nature of online opinion sharing. We conclude by proposing a four-dimensional model of label interpretation in relation to sentiment—that accounts for perceived agency, economic cost, permanence, and threat, and identifies threat and agency to be most impactful. This perspective reveals important influential aspects of labels and frames that may shape online public opinion and alter attitudes toward those directly affected by the crisis.

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Keywords social media, sentiment analysis, topic modeling, labels and frames, European refugee crisis
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Journal Social Media + Society
Lee, J.-S, & Nerghes, A. (2018). Refugee or migrant crisis?. Social Media + Society, 4(3), 1–22. doi:10.1177/2056305118785638