social media research

Social Media and the Crisis of Urban Inequality

Transnational analyses of humanitarian responses across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa

Funded by the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, administered by the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Synne Bergby headshot Urban A Cropped


Synne Bergby


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Ida Lien


PI: Dr Romola Sanyal (LSE)

Co-leads: Synne Bergby (Urban-A) and Ida Lien (Urban-A)

Action Aid India: Koustav Majumdar, Malini Nambiar, Prem Ranjan, Saurabh Kumar, Divya Kumari

Oxfam: Joseph Mary Kasumba, Winnie Munduru

Triangle: Sami Halabi, Nizar Ghanem, Shaya Laughlin

Urban-A: Anders Ese, Mahima Basnet

Project teams

Uganda case

Headshot joseph mary Kasumba Oxfam Cropped


Joseph Mary Kasumba (Oxfam)


Headshot Winnie Munduru Oxfam Cropped


Winnie Munduru (Oxfam)


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Anders Ese (Urban-A)

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Mahima Basnet (Urban-A)

Ida Lien headshot Urban A Cropped


Ida Lien (Urban-A)

Synne Bergby headshot Urban A Cropped


Synne Bergby (Urban-A)


India case

Koustav Majumdar Action Aid Cropped


Koustav Majumdar (Action Aid)


Malini Nambiar Action Aid Cropped


Malini Nambiar (Action Aid)


Prem Ranjan Action Aid  Cropped


Prem Ranjan (Action Aid)


Saurabh Kumar Action Aid Cropped


Saurabh Kumar (Action Aid)


Divya Kumari Action Aid Cropped


Divya Kumari (Action Aid)



Lebanon case

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Sami Halabi (Triangle)


Nizar Ghanem Triangle Cropped


Nizar Ghanem (Triangle)


Shaya Laughlin Triangle Cropped


Shaya Laughlin (Triangle)




What is the role of social media in alleviating or exacerbating inequalities in times of crises in the Global South?


This question animates our collaborative, transnational and interdisciplinary project.

In our work, we seek to examine how social media is used to navigate the terrain between humanitarianism and inequality in the Global South.


We argue that inequality should not only be studied in humanitarian crisis settings but itself be seen as a humanitarian crisis, especially in cities.

The urban poor, migrants and refugees can all be seen as surplus populations collectively marginalised by capitalistic production and regimes of value, and are only separated through legal categories.

The inequality of their social and legal conditions also spill into their spatial and infrastructural configurations limiting their access to jobs and housing.

Inequalities are multidimensional, produced vertically through income/wealth, horizontally through ethnic identity, migration status, gender, and age, and through space and institutional practices.


Our contention is that social and communications media play a key role in alleviating and exacerbating inequalities.

Social and communications media are tools of self-organisation that help displaced and migrants arrive in cities, access housing, jobs, and transportation. But they also entrench inequalities, with a disconnect between the kinds of information migrants, displaced and other community members receive and that are available to civil society, state, and humanitarian actors. Thus information and communication can shape support and livelihoods but also continue the exclusion of people as surplus populations.


This role of social media as both enabler and excluder in conditions of crises remains under-researched and is an area of policy development to improve rapid responses to urban shocks.

We locate these arguments in sites and times of humanitarian crises and amongst migrants and displaced people in the Global South, who are often not considered in mainstream urban inequalities work.

We study how asymmetries in accessing information during humanitarian crises lead to differential access to housing, livelihoods and other necessities for migrants and displaced populations, thus exacerbating inequalities.

We examine how different actors use information technology to combat the effects of inequalities, by extending support to vulnerable populations.


Ours is a transnational project that moves beyond reductive and unsustainable comparisons.

We are attentive to local specificities but use them to build dialogue and conversations across regions and sites. Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods adjusted for our country contexts, we strive towards being contextually sensitive while thinking about broader questions of power, oppression and global social justice.

Our long working and personal relationships with our research sites inspire us to understand the causes and consequences of inequalities, and the geographies through which they occur, and to actively find ways to reduce them.

This is the foundation for our global and collaborative project that spans three sites in Africa (Uganda), the Middle East (Lebanon) and South Asia (India).


Our project seeks to not only engage in rigorous academic research but also use that to bring about change in policy and practice, alleviating the experiences of inequalities faced by migrants and displaced populations coming into cities in the Global South who are generally rendered invisible.


Navigating between inequality and humanitarianism in Arua City, Uganda

In this project, Oxfam International and Urban-A examine how social media can be used to navigate the terrain between humanitarianism and inequality in Arua city, Uganda.

In a context of a highly fluid population, rapid urban expansion, and the presence of a large number of local and international actors, the research looks at the impact and potential of social media use on young people’s economic situation. This includes the potential of social media as an enabler to maintain a presence in and contribute to the economic growth of local communities in Arua if and when people move from the Arua, and what it means for those who remain in the city.

Oxfam International has been working in Uganda since the 1960s. The organisation is partnering with local organisations and poor communities to bring about development change, centered on women’s rights, good governance and accountability, resilient livelihoods, and effective response to humanitarian crises.

Urban-A is a consultancy company based in Oslo Norway. The company specialises in urban analysis and strategies in conflict and crisis settings, bringing together international experts who work with local partners to identify and respond to urban crises complex dynamics.


Compounding crises, identity and informational access in Tripoli, Lebanon

Throughout this project, Triangle studied the different types of information accessible to people based on their socio-economic, migrant and displaced identities, and how that links with information and support available and provided by the UN, (I)NGOs, local authorities, and civil society actors.

Triangle conducted fieldwork in Tripoli in Lebanon, where humanitarian crises and displacement are critical issues, and efforts have been made to harness the importance of social and communications media.

Established in 2016, Triangle conducts in-depth research, provides policy guidance, and develops media outputs that cover economic, developmental and social issues. Triangle works with clients to develop a framework that meets their specific needs and leverages outputs across the firm’s three focus areas.


COVID lockdowns, social media access and migration crises in India

ActionAid Association is an organisation that works in solidarity with the most marginalised communities to achieve a greater modicum of social and ecological justice.

ActionAid has been engaged with the most marginalised communities in India since 1972. In 2006, it was registered as an Indian organisation, governed by an independent General Assembly and a Governing Board.

ActionAid believes in the leadership and empowerment of the marginalised and socially-excluded communities, in combating poverty and injustice, and for a life of dignity for all.

ActionAid Association draws inspiration from the Constitution of India and other international covenants that envision a just and equal world.

ActionAid Association is studying the effects of the lockdown by the Indian government in April 2020 on the migrant workers from Patna and adjoining districts of Bihar, India, which led to massive urban-rural migration and the biggest humanitarian crisis since the partition.

As part of the project, AAA is conducting a survey of 2500 migrant workers from Patna and adjoining districts who migrated to various urban areas of India before the pandemic for work. Apart from that, semi-structured interviews with humanitarian workers, civil society, community-based first responders, researchers, trade union leaders and representatives of informal workers, district-level officials and other relevant officials from state and central governments are being conducted.

The project will support ActionAid’s management of dedicated migration facilitation centres and contribute to ActionAid’s crucial policy dialogues with the state and central governments to reduce the vulnerabilities of informal workers, especially migrant workers.