Alan Kurdi - Image of death online (2) - Google Trend - parallax 3


Images of death online (2)

The Goldsmiths study above studied Twitter feeds for two terms that feature prominently in online discussions about immigration over the last few years, focusing on those about Alan Kurdi’s death. In the period in which he, and hundreds of others drowned, discourses of refugee crisis, the outcome of the 2016 UK EU referendum, and divisions within the EU about a common asylum-policy started to gain momentum.

We used Google Trends (Google, 2018) to see if there was evidence of a similar shift in search-engine use with respect to reports about Alan Kurdi’s as a refugee. Changes in search-term frequencies for online search engines, like Google – the global market leader, can indicate shifts in how people perceive an issue as they search the web; particularly when terms like ‘migrant’ or ‘immigrant’, ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum-seeker’ become politicized.

This infographic shows how three search-terms at this time – ‘refugee’, immigrant’, and asylum-seeker left their own digital footprint as popular search-terms since then.

The number of Google searches worldwide for the key term ‘migrant’ was almost equal to the number of searches for ‘refugee’ as a key term, between January 2013 and August/September 2015. However, as Alan’s image hit the headlines, went ‘viral’ online on 2nd of September 2015, we can see that searches for ‘refugee’ doubled several times over. It has continued to outnumber the searches for the term ‘immigrants’ or ‘migrants’ since then.


What these sorts of shifts in the online contours of search-term uses suggest (e.g. about the framing role that news reports and social media discussions play in directing searches for one term or another) are questions for further research. Three years later as Alan’s father and extended family pick up their lives after Alan, Galib, and Rehanna drowned, an online iconography, based on photographic and other sorts of visual representations of his body, has emerged. These images, how they are recirculated through digital networks, are now part of public imaginaries about where the human rights of refugees and ‘migrants’ begin, and end.

Google Trends analysis chart
Google Trends analysis shows interest over time as in number of google searches for the keywords ‘migrant’. ‘refugee’ and ‘immigrant’ between January 2015 and December 2017.








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