New Publication: “Not for Twitter: Migration as a Silenced Topic in the 2015 Spanish General Election”

book Exploring Silence and Absence in Discourse : Empirical Approaches

A new Wor(l)ds Lab study has been published as a chapter in the book Exploring Silence and Absence in Discourse : Empirical Approaches, edited by Charlotte Taylor and Melani Schröter. The book “fills a significant gap in the field by addressing the topic of absence in discourse”.

The title of our work is Not for Twitter: Migration as a Silenced Topic in the 2015 Spanish General Election (pdf of a draft version). We focus on how migration to Spain is (under)represented in the parties and candidate’s Twitter accounts. Our iintial goal was to investigate whether politicians communicate in a different way when they are using Twitter. We chose this particular social network hoping that its quite specific characteristics would help us to find innovative strategies. In this preliminary stage, we used frequencies in order to choose the most relevant issues, but soon it was very clear to us that we were missing some key topics. Hot issues of that period of time did not show up within the most frequent words. We found it particularly surprising that refugees were not a frequent subject. It was December 2015 and the news all around the world were focusing on the Syrian war and on the migration phenomenon it was causing. Thousands of Syrian refugees were drowning in the Mediterranean coasts trying to reach Europe.

Migration through the Mediterranean Sea has always been a main topic for Spain. The Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Spain from Morocco, has 7.7 nautical miles at the strait ́s narrowest point. This is a natural entrance for migration from Africa. We decided to look into the corpus for other issues which were also very relevant for the Spanish political context and controversial for the political parties: feminism, sexuality, religion, racism, and linguistic minorities. The results showed us a clear pattern where topics conspicuous in the press, in everyday discussions, and even in the election manifestos, were missing in our Twitter corpus. This situation compelled us to foreground silences in our research, and to try to answer the questions of why those topics were silenced in the digital discourse and how it was done.


New Publication: “The framing of Muslims on the Spanish Internet” (in Lodz Papers in Pragmatics)

Lodz Papers in Pragmatics

A new Wor(l)ds Lab study has been published in Lodz Papers in Pragmatics 13-2, an international journal “committed to publishing excellent theoretical and empirical research in the area of pragmatics and related disciplines focused on human communication”.

The title of our work is “The framing of Muslims on the Spanish Internet“, a study of the representation of Muslims on Internet. After the terrorist attacks in Europe (including Madrid and Barcelona), Islamophobia and Muslimophobia have grown considerably in our society. Tracking discriminatory discourses about Muslims and Islam is not easy, firstly because categorization is itself elusive: discourses mix different elements such as race, nationality, and religion when referring to Muslims. However, such a study is necessary given that political discourses, mainstream media and social media become sometimes a vehicle for hateful political beliefs, ideologies and actions.

This paper is anchored in a Cognitive linguistics approach, and especially in the Frame Semantics, where special relevance is given to lexical selection and framing strategies. In short, we followed a Corpus Assisted Discourse Studies (CADS) approach. We observe the frames through the most frequent lexical selection obtained with Corpus Linguistics tools with which we explore our data. The most frequent collocations point at the frames being constructed in the discourse. To take an example, we see that the adjective “Islamic” is frequently used with violent concepts such as “terrorism”. This indicates a conceptual contiguity between terrorism and Islam, i.e. that terrorism is part of the framing conveyed by the word islámico (‘Islamic’).

Though the social reality of Muslims in Spain is very complex (Spaniards, immigrants, tourists, refugees, etc.), the discourse on Internet is partial and shallow. As a matter of fact, even when Muslims are mentioned as belonging to a common past in Spain, they are pictured only as military invaders (“Them” as historical enemies in our territory). When it is a frame of “Them” as victims of injustice related to Islamophobia/Muslimophobia, they still are at the other end of the Us vs. Them polarization.

The research presented in this article confirms the stigmatization of this minority in the digital discourse. This also explains the fact that we have found cultural words (such as velo or jihad) semantically shifting to a negative framing. If the detection of stigmatizations is, as pointed out by experts, the first step in escalating into hate speech and hate crime, digital discourse about Muslims in Spain should be considered as worrying.