Post 6: Moments and voices

by Erland Howden

As part of my ongoing design research into asylum seekers and refugees, I wanted to shift my focus from the events, policy and decisions surrounding this issue to look at the voices and advocates for change. This will allow me to get a better understanding of what is being done to change asylum seeker policy, particularly in Australia, in turn giving me an insight into constructive areas for my own design proposal.

I decided to use the twitter archiver demonstrated in our tutorial class as my tool to help survey and analyse some of the advocacy on this issue. I made this decision based partly on the context I had distilled from my ongoing news media research:

  1. a lot of the focus of pro-asylum seeker campaigners and organisations in Australia is targeted at government policy change or the companies involved in immigration detention;
  2. Government policy aimed at limiting access to and reporting about Australia’s offshore immigration detention makes purely image-based research more challenging; and
  3. Twitter is a key platform used by advocacy organisations to spread their messages and engage both their audience (people sympathetic to policy change on refugees) and targets (politicians and corporate decision-makers).

Additionally, there are a number of key moments in recent pro-asylum seeker advocacy that specifically sought to capitalise on Twitter’s functionality and its place in Australian political discourse, which is partially summed up by Axel Bruns, a professor of media and communication at the Queensland University of Technology, “It’s not a pure representation of political opinion in Australia … but we see in #auspol a distilled version of overall political debate, probably a little bit exaggerated, a little extreme.” (Bogle 2016)Two of these moments are specifically named for their hashtags (an internet phenomenon itself first brought into widespread use by Twitter): #LetThemStay and #BringThemHere.

I used the Twitter archiver tool to look at these two hashtags: #LetThemStay and #BringThemHere. What is interesting is that they embody the way in which social media has changed and become integrated in social change advocacy. The #LetThemStay hashtag was coined as a significant indicator of pro-refugee policy during the catalytic events surrounding the hospitalisation and release of a number of asylum seekers at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, particularly the then 12-month old girl known as “Baby Asha” (Slezak 2016). When the Immigration Department wanted the asylum seekers discharged to be returned to immigration detention on Nauru, hospital staff refused and many Australians rallied to support them, citing the danger to the asylum seekers’ wellbeing represented by a return to Nauru.

Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden
Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden

The #BringThemHere hashtag essentially became a follow-up to this campaign moment – extending the call from the small number of individuals being returned to Nauru to the hundreds of asylum seekers being held in offshore detention. This call is centred on the original argument around the conditions in immigration detention and the risk that represents to detainees’ health and wellbeing.

Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden
Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden

Once I had scraped the data from twitter, I used a couple of simple analysis tools to start to unpack the data. First, I analysed how many of the tweets were “re-tweets” – interestingly, despite the fact that there were only about 650 #letthemstay tweets compared to 6147 for #bringthemhere, almost exactly the same percentage were retweets (73% and 72% respectively).

Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden
Twitter archive for #LetThemStay initiated by Erland Howden

Second, I noticed that campaign organisation GetUp was cropping up a lot as I ran my eyes over the spreadsheets – so filtering for the word  “GetUp”, which is also the organisation’s twitter handle, showed any tweets of theirs that was retweeted, as well as their original. 8% of the ‘stay’ tweets mentioned GetUp, compared to only 3% of ‘bring’ tweets, indicating that GetUp was a more central player in the events surrounding ‘stay’, whereas the ‘bring’ campaign is operating more like a movement without a central campaign organisation. My final analysis was looking at the tweets with the most reach. Simply filtering for the top 10 number of followers give us:

  • For ‘stay’, 2 from GetUp, 4 from Greens politicians, 2 from journalists, 1 from an NGO and one from a prominent conservative.
  • For ‘bring’, 4 from GetUp, 3 from journalists, 1 from an NGO and 2 from celebrities.
Twitter archive for #BringThemHere initiated by Erland Howden
Twitter archive for #BringThemHere initiated by Erland Howden

From here, I think another direction to take in analysing these results might be to use a sentiment calculator to get a sense of the emotions and broad perspective across the large volume of text. In terms of data visualisation, this could then be mapped to colour and maybe to the user’s location (of the tweet or via text on their profile) and a map of people’s state of mind (eg. black for depression, red for anger, etc) when discussing these issues could be created.


Bogle, A. 2016, ‘#auspol: The Twitter hashtag Australia can’t live without’, Mashable Australia, 21 March, viewed 5 September, <;.

Slezak, M. 2016, ‘#LetThemStay protest takes to Sydney harbour in fight for 267 asylum seekers’, The Guardian, 14 February, viewed 5 September, <;.

Oriti, T. 2016, ‘Let Them Stay labelled a success, more than half of 267 asylum seekers in community detention’, ABC News, 2 April, viewed 5 September, <;.


Author: Erland Howden

Graphic designer, photographer & facilitator. 💚 enviro justice, community organising, travel, vego food & wildlife.

%d bloggers like this: