Post 5: Design led ethnography – Asylum seekers and refugees

Interview (Matt, Josh, Ting)

Our group divided up topics to talk about in the interview so at the end of the lesson we could come together with a much broader set of results. I chose to ask questions about asylum seekers and refugees in the media.

My questions were open as I’d have to gauge how actively my interviewee engaged with news media and then discuss accordingly. The first question was simply: what media outlets do you hear about this issue from? Due to the age group of my interviewees I’d been expecting responses that heavily referenced social media and was prepared to frame the rest of my interview around that. Yet the answer from both interviewees caught me by surprise.

I interviewed Matt first and this was his response:

I hear about it on TV.
You actually watch TV?
Sometimes I watch the Project.
Why the Project?
It’s on at seven when I’m eating.
I think you’re the only person I know who watches TV (My TV has been broken since 2009, thus explaining my shock)
Do you know the Daily Show? I watch that.
Do you watch it while you’re eating dinner as well?

Josh’s answer was surprisingly similar:

I don’t actively seek out articles about refugees, but if I was to hear about it, it would just be from regular shows like The Project or…
He also watches the Project!
Wait is that what Matt said as well?
Yeah he said that he watches it during din…
During dinner! Yeah a hundred percent, a hundred percent! That’s exactly the same, and because… it’s on before the Bachelor

Convenience must not be the only reason that both my interviewees chose to watch the project during dinner. From my (vague) memories of 7:00PM television, ABC and SBS news were both on at that time. I asked them why the Project (and the Daily Show in Matt’s instance) instead of other news programs.

They’re easy to watch.
And they’re both…
Ha yea definitely more left leaning
Centre maybe
Who does the Daily Show again? Trevor Noah…
John Oliver was really good
Trevor Noah’s hot
John Oliver was better

Good personalities… I think Wahleed is you know, pretty left wing. And his popularity can shape a whole generation of people
Woah good quote

It seems that personalties are a huge part of what draws audiences to these news outlets. John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Wahleed Aly are figures that express their political opinion with charisma, humour and passion. Perhaps the attempted neutrality of traditional news broadcasts by ABC and SBS are starting to have less appeal for a younger audience (that is, excluding programs with cult icons like Lee Lin Chin).

My interviewees were also quick to state that these personalities were left-leaning. As seen from Aly’s feature that I analysed in the first post, his voice on the show does strongly reflect his political values. I decided to ask Matt if he voluntarily engage in media views that are more right wing just to have a different outlook on the issue.

So majority of the info you consume is left wing media? Or am I just putting words into your mouth?
I mean I see, like Andrew Bolt’s comments and stuff like that just for fun, and Alan Jones, another quality right winger. Gotta get angry at something. 

“Gotta get angry at something” seems to confirm the act of consuming news content mostly for the emotional response. 

However at this point in both the interviews I was also feeling a bit affronted that things weren’t going in the direction that I had predicted. I decided to push my interviewees into telling me how social media plays a role in informing them about asylum seekers and refugees.

Would you say that a lot of your friends engage in the dialogue on social media and it pops up on your news feed?
Nah I have very dumb friends
Outside of uni people, my friends don’t really talk about that kind of stuff
Then how do you here about it on social media?
Yeah I follow… that’s the only news site. I mainly follow sports news sites on social media.
I think it popped up once and I thought eh should probably…
What makes you click on an article on refugees then?
Actually the most recent one was about the swimmer who was in the olympics, I can’t remember her name. She gave this speech that was like we are not refugees we are people and yeah… it was really good. 
Did you cry?
No I did NOT cry

Much of what we see on refugees and asylum seekers on social media is dictated by the friends we choose to have and the news site we choose to like. I also understand that Facebook has a complex algorithm that chooses what items appear on your newsfeed based on what you have clicked on in the past, and what your close friends may be clicking on in the present (probably why I’m always seeing memes on my newsfeed).

Any other content that the algorithm deems as not significant to your interests often are never seen. With this method of coded selectivity, someone who usually does not engage in texts about refugees would often have trouble stumbling upon new articles on the issue.

I also found it interesting that Josh who loves sport was prompted to click on an article on refugees because it also had a connection to the Olympics (a testament to the Olympic’s refugee team for raising awareness). This bit of information influenced the design of probe.



Note: Firstly, I’m sorry that you had to read about the exact same probe for asylum seekers and refugees 20 times. Secondly, here is another exact same probe for you to read. 

My probe invited my subject to look out for articles on refugees and asylum seekers on their social media sites/news sites and state why/why not they decided to click on the links/ read further.

Some results

(Josh participated but came up with NO results)

Chloe’s results:

Matt’s results:

28.08.16 (01)
A rare, feel good article on refugees and asylum seekers. The article looks at a few different artists who sought shelter in Australia after fleeing their homeland and looks at how these experiences have shaped their art. This article was shared by a friend on Facebook. I clicked on it as almost every other article was very sad.
24.08.16 (02)
I did not click on this article, although I did read the blurb on Facebook. I didn’t read the full article as I am still traumatised by Ai Weiwei from HSC art. Another reason I didn’t read the article was because the blurb itself focused more on Ai Weiwei’s artistic practice rather than on the plight of refugees and I did not want to read a feature length article


Looking at Chloe’s first article that she snapped me, I can deduce that articles about individuals in moments of tragedy attract clicks. Referring back to my comment about trauma culture, I think this is an example of how we can be drawn to these narratives.

I also find it interesting in her second article that Chloe was drawn to something with bright illustrations and again, stories about individuals. Images obviously play an important part of drawing readers attention.

Two out of four of the articles that Matt came across were related to art. One of them appeared on his newsfeed because our friend Rekha had liked the link. Perhaps the reason that Matt and our peers are drawn to articles about art & refugees is because it is a discipline that we have engaged with in the past and present.

I suppose Josh’s lack of results may be an indicator of the small reach that news outlets have when trying to inform people about refugees and asylum seekers (of course the sample space of a week doesn’t really give much of an accurate prediction for anything) .

Room for improvement

I think it would’ve been great if I’d actually thought about it a bit more and come up with a more creative probe.

To get more results I could have told my subjects to scroll through a news site and record what articles they did or did not click on. However I did want the process to be more organic. As I said, a week is such a short period of time to be keeping an eye out for articles. Also it really is hard to determine exactly why one clicks on an article, I can make judgements and my subject can make judgements but we can’t really know for sure.

Overall I think the interview revealed a lot more for me than the probe. Here’s my five point summary:

  • Television news programs led by personalities such as Wahleed Aly attract more attention from a younger audience.
  • Stories about refugees that relate to personal interests (sports, art etc) attract clicks.
  • How much you see about asylum seekers and refugees on social media is often dependent on the content/people you usually engage with. Due to algorithms on Facebook, Twitter etc.
  • Stories with titles that appeal to extreme emotions attract clicks.


EDIT 4/09/16:
Just something more about that Facebook algorithm stuff!

I remember reading an interview with Eli Pariser where he talks about algorithms putting us in “filter bubbles”. He states that these filter bubbles are driven by the power of clicks and advertising, and limits “the unexpected encounters that spark innovation and the democratic exchange of ideas” (Pariser, 2011). He explains this really well in his TED talk, a pretty quick and interesting watch!

So in this context, I suppose it can be said that Matt and Josh have been limited to their own “filter bubbles” in the digital sphere. This pesky bubble’s confines have restricted them from seeing a lot of media coverage on an issue that really should be more widely discussed.


Pariser, E. 2011, The filter bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you, Anonymous Penguin UK.





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