The Impact of Social Media on Human Rights

This was a panel at the Human Rights Weekend in Amsterdam, organized by Human Rights Watched to discuss the impact of social media on human rights in light of surveillance, privacy, information accuracy and even trolls.

I talked about the work that Bahrain Watch does in relation to cyber security and investigation surveillance, as well as my research on the impact of images of refugees that media outlets publish, on people’s emotions and attitudes.

Full video of the panel here:



Master Thesis: The Impact of Images in Reporting the Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis is arguably one of most urgent political issues facing European countries in recent history. Refugees fleeing war-torn countries are flocking to Europe in mass waves, resulting in heated debates on how to handle this influx of people. Host communities are split between supporting and resenting the acceptance of refugees into their countries and villages (Yardley, 2016). Europe has witnessed an increase in anti-immigration sentiment, prompting a reaction by right-wing groups to campaign against refugees in countries such as Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands (Scally, 2016; Deutsche Welle, 2016; The Economist, 2016; Sims, 2016). At the same time, the voice of counter movements in solidarity with refugees coming to Europe has also gained popularity (Brammall, 2015). Examples of such initiatives include the Refugees Welcome movement across Europe and the many active NGOs that provide help for refugees in their communities and abroad, such as Refugees Welcome accommodation share that started in Germany and spread across other European countries. Several organizations were established in the Netherlands and are now operating both inside and outside of the country such as Movement On The Ground, Boat Refugees (Boot Vluchteling) and Because We Carry.

Local and international media outlets have devoted extensive attention to this topic, covering news about refugees crossing borders, refugees’ living conditions in different European countries, and clashes between refugees and authorities. Media has multiple options in how to report the refugee crisis and what aspects they choose to emphasize, or neglect. Amidst all media coverage of the crisis, there was one powerful turning point, the release of the picture of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish shore after the boat he boarded with his family sunk. The image of his body lying face down in the sand was so powerful that it was widely circulated and triggered an international response: humanitarian aid and political debates on immigration policies. His image has been recognized as a symbol of the refugee crisis that represents many children and people making the dangerous journey to Europe. But why was this picture so powerful? And what effects did that picture have on people for them to react the way they did on social media and in news articles?


Each image, sentence, or video constructs a message in a certain way and presents a frame, a method of composing and delivering a specific message in a certain context. The way a message or an issue is presented has different effects on different people. Extensive research on framing effects has sufficiently demonstrated that frames in the media influence people’s emotions, attitudes and behaviors towards issues (e.g. Scheufele, & Iyengar 2012; Berinsky & Kinder, 2006; de Vreese and Boomgaarden, 2003; Brantner, Lobinger, & Wetzstein, 2011). More specifically, studies showed that immigration has been covered in the media using different and possibly opposing frames (e.g. Van Gorp, 2005), and such frames affect how audiences feel about immigration. Emotions towards certain issues also have a mediating effect on how people’s attitudes are formed (e.g. Lecheler, Bos & Vliegenthart, 2015). However, despite the multitude of studies focused on framing and framing effects, scholars argue that research is drifting away from the original meaning of framing and framing effects and confusing it with other theories (Scheufele & Iyengar, 2012). Therefore it is important to expand framing effect research to include non-verbal visuals, to return to what scholars argue is the traditional understanding of framing research (Scheufele & Iyengar, 2012 p.2). Yet, visual framing has received less attention than textual framing, leaving a distinct gap in visual framing research, and its effects on the public (Schuck & Feinholdt, 2015; Coleman, 2010). One of the main reasons visual framing has received less attention is the difficulty in identifying visual frames (Rodriguez & Dimitrova, 2011).


Although immigration has been studied before, little attention was paid to the visuals used to cover immigration or the refugee crisis. The refugee crisis is relatively recent, and there have been no studies examining the use of images in different frames in this crisis, and how they affect audiences. Yet, there has been discussion and public debate on the way media portrays refugees coming into European countries, and an even more heated debate on whether member states of the European Union should allow large numbers of refugees to enter, or instead close their borders. In 2015 alone, there were 43,093 asylum applications in the Netherlands (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland). Although the Netherlands is a relatively small European country, it has witnessed an anti-refugee sentiment supported by right-wing politician Geert Wilders (Sims, 2016). Because of this conflicted environment, it is interesting to use the Netherlands as a case study to see how people react to different visual frames of refugees. Framing specifically is important to examine within this topic because the Netherlands enjoys a high level of press freedom, ranking second worldwide (RSF, 2016). This makes the refugee crisis an even more critical issue to cover in the media given that Dutch media has greater freedom to choose how to report on it and what frames to use in their coverage. This, in turn, gives them power, to influence the public opinion in the country regarding the refugee crisis.


An experiment to test the impact of images portraying refugees on people’s emotions and attitudes in the Netherlands. Visual framing is deemed to be powerful, and it is up to the journalist or visual editors to make choices that can influence the public.


Prior research has shown that there are indeed some radically opposing frames used to cover immigration topics, for example, Van Gorp (2005) who used the news coverage of asylum seekers, refugees and illegal immigrants in Belgian newspapers as a case study to examine two issue-specific frames: the intruder frame and the victim frame. This study derives from framing, framing effects and mediation theories, but deviates from the traditional textual frames and focuses on visual frames instead, building on the work of Van Gorp (2005). Besides looking at framing effects on emotions such as anger and empathy and people’s anti or pro-refugee attitudes, I will take a further step into examining how emotions mediate the impact of visual frames on attitudes. Thus, this study tackles the research question: What are the effects of visual frames portraying refugees on people’s emotions and attitudes towards refugees in the Netherlands?

Read full paper here: refugees-in-the-netherlands-victims-or-intruders-1

White Helmets: TedxAmsterdam 2016

I was hired by TedxAmsterdam to coach and live translate a speech for Raed El Saleh, the founder and leader of the White Helmets group in Syria.


The theme of this year’s TedxAmsterdam was #NewPower, a large and loose term that pools in a variety of ideas, projects, and movements which offer new perspectives and literally new power to challenge the status quo.

My first responsibility was to help him generate strong talking points and draft them into a compelling speech. Secondly, I coached him on the use of body language, tone, and the number of words and sentence structures to deliver a powerful speech.

During the event, I was also asked do live translation as he delivered his semi-structured speech for the audience.

The White Helmets are a group of about 3000 volunteers distributed  around 120 centers in eight districts in Syria whose mission is to save lives post airstrikes and attacks. They are local search and rescue teams trained to pull people out from under the rubble. Read more about them on their official website and you can follow their live updates on Twitter.

Here is the full video of Raed El Saleh’s talk, translated live by myself:

He Left Brazil to Live like a Refugee in Europe

I talked to a Brazilian human rights lawyer who joined refugees on their journey crossing borders in Europe and facing the same challenges and obstacles:

Brazilian human rights and criminal lawyer Edgard Raoul used to work at a law firm in Sao Paulo. After a few months of feeling helpless while watching images and videos of people fleeing Syria and other conflict areas for a dangerous journey through Europe,  he quit his job and left his life behind.

He wanted to experience what refugees fleeing to Europe were going through. He started his journey in Turkey, then went to the Greek island Lesvos, Athens, through Idomeni onto Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria and Germany. All along the way he lived with refugees.

Our MENA contributor Faten Bushehri is interviewing Edgard in Amsterdam, where he is currently taking a break to prepare for his trip to the Middle East. He says he wants to understand where refugees come from.

In this episode of GV Face, we ask Edgard about what motivated him to leave his life behind and what he has learnt meeting and living with refugees.

Read the original article on Global Voices 

Opportunity to Volunteer in Lesvos for Bahrainis (Or Arabic Speaking candidate)

This is a one time opportunity to encourage mainly Bahrainis to get involved in humanitarian work and help refugees.

About the opportunity:

  • Deadline is December 26th
  • This is a donation given by a Bahraini who wished to remain anonymous and will cover only flight ticket. You are expected to pay for your hotel, car rental, living expenses, and visa if you need one.
  • This is not part of a team, or an official organization that you will join. You are expected to work independently and be able to establish relationships and connections on the ground to collaborate with. We will put you in touch with some people, but there is no fixed schedule of activities and things to do that you would follow.

About you:

  • Must be 18 years or older
  • Fluent in both Arabic and English
  • Have funds to cover the other expenses
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Can be there for a minimum of 10 days
  • Can work under pressure and in intense situations
  • No health problems that requires special care
  • Submit a brief report (one page) about your experience after you come back

Things to know:

  • Mytelini and Lesvos is the same place. Two names for the island
  • There are rarely direct flights to Mytelini, you’d have to stop in Athens first
  • It is cold these days in Lesvos especially at night by the shores
  • The experience is mentally and emotionally and physically exhausting
  • There is a big Facebook group where all volunteers and NGOs are discussing all kinds of things, and there are files available to explain dynamics of the island and information
  • If you’re selected, you would get a general briefing of all the information you need to know.

If interested, email the following to

Cover letter explaining:
  • Tell me about yourself and background (basic information: name, age, location, and who you are)
  • Why you’re interested in volunteering in Lesvos?
  • Why do you think you’re the perfect candidate to be chosen?
  • What is your previous experience in humanitarian aid, or any relevant experience?
  • This could be a very heavy experience, some days are slow and easy, others are traumatic for both refugees and volunteers. How do you usually handle emotional situations and shock (any relevant example?)
  • When is the earliest that you can be in Lesvos?

Priority goes to:

  • Bahrainis (and then all arabic speakers)
  • Volunteers who can leave as early as possible
  • Volunteers who already have a visa
  • Volunteers who live in Europe *for minimal flight expenses*

Podcasts: Lesvos Diaries

About three weeks ago, myself and a friend decided to launch a campaign, to raise funds for refugees in the Greek island of Lesvos. On November 16th we hopped on a plane to Lesvos to provide basic supplies and help with the donations we have collected.

It’s difficult to grasp and capture our time there with simple written words. The conditions need improvement, and the stories of arriving refugees are heart breaking. We worked at several camps with other volunteers to try to improve the situation as well as provide basic supplies in preparation for winter.

We started a Sound Cloud account where we shared and will continue to share some of our experiences.

For updates on our work in Lesvos follow our Instagram account @impactlesvos