Soraya Tharani: UNHCR, Stories of Refugees and the Public Sphere – UN and Social Media Language

Welcome to a K3 seminar with Soraya Tharani, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, K3. The title of the talk is:

UNHCR, Stories of Refugees and the Public Sphere – UN and Social Media Language

It will take place on Wednesday, November 7 at 10.15-12.00 in The K3 Open Studio, NIC 0541, Niagara

Here is an abstract for the talk:

Social media has changed how the landscape of the public sphere can be formed. The movement from linear to interactive models of communication has led to new spaces in which public opinion can be built. Social media is also becoming increasingly significant as a place for building relationships. The ways in which public debates are carried out in various social media forums today are relevant for understanding how different voices from the civil society engage in debates.

The public sphere as defined by Habermas is my point of departure for researching discussions in UN social media forums. For Habermas, the public sphere is a discursive arena where public opinion can be formed from reasoned debate. The UN is a supranational organisation that produces textual and audio-visual stories for their global social media audiences. The participation of diverse voices in conversations taking place in these forums can give insight into dialogues regarding transnational issues.

In this presentation, I will talk about a part of my research into UN and social media language, namely the way content in UNHCR social media platforms is discussed. I am studying how engagement is expressed in the forums regarding the stories of people escaping war and/or persecution. Social media makes it possible for individuals from conflict areas, regional neighbours and those more geographically distant to enter into dialogue on global issues in these spaces. Some of the guiding questions that I will take up in this presentation are: What stories about refugees containing celebrity endorsements is UNHCR publishing on their social media platforms? What aspects are discussed by the participants in the forums? How do people use language in the forums to talk about the issues? My ongoing research into UN’s social media presence aims to problematise and understand the place of reasoned debate in global social media public spheres.


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