Exploring the role of social media in the lives and well-being of young refugees in Bergen, Norway
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In the wake of the “refugee crisis”, social media is increasingly being used by governments, humanitarian organisations, voluntary groups, and refugees themselves, to respond to issues raised by forced migration. Social media is regarded as both a facilitator and barrier in migration processes, and in recent years has been used by policy-makers and practitioners as a resource to promote integration and support refugees in host countries as well as a tool to deter migration (in official government ‘migration information’ campaigns). The potential of social media to reach migrant and refugee populations has also attracted the attention of health promoters. However, there is little evidence regarding the effects of targeted messages and campaigns delivered by social media on refugees themselves, including the impact on their well-being. There is also limited empirical research on how refugees are already using social media in their everyday lives in host countries, how it is of value to them, and what outcomes they themselves want to achieve - and are achieving - by using it. This study aims to understand how and why young refugees living in Norway use social media in their everyday lives, to explore their experiences of using it and identify capabilities that it offers them, and to make connections between their social media use and well-being. It adopts a qualitative approach, employing as research methods: in-depth interviews with eight young refugees of different nationalities living in Bergen; interviews with two key informants representing a ‘Refugees Welcome’ group in Norway and the Norwegian government’s ‘Stricter Asylum Regulations in Norway’ migration information campaign; and online observation of two public Facebook groups focused on refugees in Norway, ‘Refugees Welcome to Norway’ and ‘Refugees NOT Welcome to Norway’. Two theories are used to frame the study and guide the analysis of findings: Uses and Gratifications Theory, which is an approach to understanding why individuals actively seek out particular media, including social media, to satisfy specific needs; and the Capability Approach, which shifts focus from the resources that individuals have access to, such as technologies, towards the outcomes that they are able to achieve with them. Findings from analysis of study participants’ reported uses of social media indicate that their main motivations for using social media in their lives in Norway are communication, access to information, and learning. Analysis of participants’ reported achievements suggests that social media as a resource offers five related capabilities: effective communication; social connectedness; participation in learning opportunities; access to information; and expression of self. Other findings from the study, such as issues of trust in social media, preferences for ‘real-life’ face-to-face contact, and differences in approach to using social media (‘active’ versus ‘passive’ use), are also discussed. Migration information campaigns conducted on social media are found to have little direct impact on participants in this study. However, participants report awareness of and positive responses to social media groups supporting refugees in Norway (such as the ‘Refugees Welcome’ Facebook groups). The thesis concludes by highlighting that, although not all participants in the study engage with social media in the same way and some negative experiences are reported, social media does have an important positive role to play in their well-being. Recommendations include ensuring that all asylum seekers and refugees in Norway have the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to navigate social media; including refugees in the design and implementation of initiatives using social media, particularly around issues of trust and security; and recognising the value of identifying the social media platforms that refugees are already using in their daily lives, and using these to deliver health promotion messages and learning opportunities.
PublisherThe University of Bergen
Subjectsocial mediaRefugeeshealthwell-beinguses and gratificationsdigital technologyNorwaycapability approach
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