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Mapping Real-World Migration Flow Network Using Context-Rich Social Media Data

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

Advice-seeking is an emblematic hallmark of social media use with many users actively seeking immigration advice online. Such phenomenon signals, from an individual perspective, the intention to move and ideal destinations for moving, and from a collective perspective, regional, national, or even international migration trends. Analyzing self-disclosing immigration intentions on social media provides a new way to infer migration flows, obtain migration data, and contextualize observed migration patterns, deepening our understanding of the dynamics of migration inextricable from the ever-changing economic, cultural, and societal environment and potentially overcoming the shortcomings of traditional methods used to studying migration. It paves the path to studies of the migration flow, an endeavor of paramount significance in our increasingly globalized and dynamic world, and bears significance to both scholars who are enthusiastic about understanding migration and policymakers interested in policy planning and preparation.

This project aims to harness a novel dataset from an online community focusing on immigration advice seeking, the subreddit r/IWantOut, as a pilot initiative to test the feasibility of converting text data on social media into networks of migration flow and eventually overlay with maps. This project hopes to bury the conceptual seeds that could later germinate in the development of utilizing context-rich social media data for future migration trend research. Specifically, this project will focus on:

A). Conduct a migration flow network analysis using posts on r/IWantOut. 

Using text mining techniques, the investigators aim to extract: 1) geographical migration patterns, the origin, and the destination, 2) self-disclosed personal identities (gender, sexuality, age, occupation, etc.), and 3) self-disclosed intention of moving. With cleaned data, this project will lead to two streams of research. First, it will descriptively answer the questions of 1) what is the trend of disclosed migration intentions on different geographical levels, 2) who wanted to move and where did they want to move to, and 3) why did people want to move, breaking down by identities and moving path. Additionally, the researchers might be able to conduct inferential analysis that examines the impact of certain political events: for example, did the overturn of the Roe v Wade case induce a surge of American women posting immigration advice online?

B). Compare migration flow inferred online with real-world migration database

Given the existence of real-world migration data, this project can examine the differences between the offline and online migration trends in two ways. Firstly, the investigators will be able to see which path of migration is relatively more pronounced online but not seen offline and vice versa. Tapping into social demography, the investigators might extrapolate what groups have their voices amplified in the online media given the observed difference. For example, were the migration intentions inferred from the online disclosure more similar to the actual migration trend of the US but not other countries?

Principal Investigator

Yukun Yang, Graduate Student, Network Science Institute

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