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After the flow of refugees to Sweden in 2015: No increased polarization on Twitter

Contrary to what one might think, a study from Linnaeus University shows that no radical division of Twitter users into two opinion camps occurred, neither during nor after the refugee crisis in 2015. However, over time, more users expressed a negative opinion about migration and the tonality became more negative.

In the study, Elizaveta Kopacheva and Victoria Yantseva investigated if the large influx of refugees to Sweden in 2015 was associated with any changes in opinions expressed about migration on Twitter. In total, they analysed almost 1.2 million Swedish tweets posted between 2012 and 2019. The result surprised them.

“Based on previous research, we anticipated a polarization of the debate. Despite our expectations, though, we did not find any radical division of users into two expressed-opinion camps, neither during nor after the refugee crisis”, says Elizaveta Kopacheva.

“In the wake of the crisis, we even found growth of less radical opinions expressed by users. However, our analysis of the tweets posted during these seven years shows that with time, there are more users expressing a negative opinion about migration, and the tonality of messages becomes more negative”, says Victoria Yantseva.

Both Elizaveta and Victoria are doctoral students, in political science and sociology, respectively. They suggest that the growing number of tweets expressing extreme opinions may reflect similar trends in how people think about migration in Sweden.

“This can suggest that in the future, Swedish political parties will have a hard time reaching a consensus regarding Swedish immigration policies. Such phenomena must be considered when developing party programs”, says Victoria Yantseva.

The two doctoral students are interested in continuing their research in the field.

“It would be interesting to investigate how involving in online discussions of political issues affects opinion formation. In particular, if being exposed to views other than one’s own would depoliticize the user or, on the opposite, make the user more extreme in terms of expressed opinions. Moreover, how does the time spent on forums affect how likely or unlikely you are to radicalize?”, concludes Elizaveta Kopacheva.

More information

The article Users’ polarisation in dynamic discussion networks: The case of refugee crisis in Sweden.