The digital life of the #migrantcaravan: Contextualizing Twitter as a spatialtechnology

Mapped visual of tweets by migrants.

Analyzing conversational archetypes from Twitter data. Adapted from Smith et al. (2014).

Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah, assistant professor of urban and regional planning, examines the relationship of spatial mapping and social media for migrant caravans in South America. 

The Central American migrant caravans of 2018 are best understood as having been precipitated by entangled multi-scalar geopolitical histories among the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Unsurprisingly, the migrants traveling north to the United States garnered widespread attention on social media. So much so that the reaction to the caravan accelerated plans to deploy troops to the US southern border and deny Central Americans the opportunity to seek asylum. This example showcases how the digital world can have exponential material effects. While coverage on border security and migration has been extensive, within political geography, such concerns have rarely been paired with social media. In this article, we take as our object of analysis the digitality or “digital life” of the migrant caravan. Mapping the patterns of migrant caravan-related tweeting paired with the exploration of Twitter’s networked dimensions reveals the platform to be a fundamentally spatial technology. Rather than reflect, refract or distort, Twitter produces and (its power) is in turn produced through spatial mechanisms. We present multiple cartographic visualizations in support of this claim and highlight the ways in which a contextual knowledge of the subject under study—the migrant caravan—can further inform analyses of Big Data.

Authors

Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah, Assistant Professor
Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Margaret A. Walker, Department of Geography and Geosciences and School of Urban and Public Affairs

Publisher

Big Data & Society

Date Published

2020