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Picturing the Social

Picturing the Social

“Picturing the Social: transforming our understanding of images in social media and Big Data” was a 3-year project funded by ESRC Transformative Research Call (total value £250,000). Olga Goriunova was a co-I on the project, together with PI and co-Is from the University of Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Manchester Metropolitan and Cello Group Plc.

“Picturing the Social” focused on images across social media platforms, analysing big visual data through an analytical platform made available by our industrial partner. One of its outcomes was an open access rapid response report ‘The Iconic Image on Social Media: A Rapid Research Response to the Death of Aylan Kurdi’, co-edited by Farida Vis and Olga Goriunova. 

Published at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, it examined how the image of three-year old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach in Turkey in early September 2015 came to symbolise the flight of Syrian refugees to Europe.  The report tracked how the image spread on Twitter: from 1 tweet to 20 million screens in 12 hours. The report showed that these images had a huge impact on language use, with users shifting from the term 'migrants' to 'refugees' overnight. We showed that Twitter was instrumental in the distribution of these images, making this strongly image-led story go global and mainstream before the official international press published the first news article. The report featured contributions, among others, from Google News Lab, UNHCR and WITNESS and engaged with work carried out by public sector organisations to inform the procedures of the third sector on communication strategies, refugee campaigns and support, and the use of images and social media.

The form of a rapid response report is an attempt to develop new means of enhancing impact in academic publishing by rapid engagement and collaboration across disciplines and with the industry. The report was viewed over 10,000 times within the first month of its publication and was widely featured in the press.


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