Using Social Big Data to Gain Insights Into the Migration & Xenophobia Crisis in Latin America & the Caribbean

Migration is contentious issue, as it often leads to xenophobic behavior that is detrimental to social cohesion. It’s an issue that Latin America and the Caribbean have been forcefully confronted with over the last five years, primarily driven by the more than 5 million Venezuelans who have been displaced from their country, 4 million of which have migrated and settled in other countries. In some cases, the integration has been accepted and supported. But not in all. It’s the growing number of cases in which migrants have been confronted with prejudice that is of greatest concern, and one that must be monitored in order to prevent their social and economic exclusion. 

The issue of xenophobia linked to migration is one that we care deeply about and is why we partnered with the Migration Unit  and Housing and Urban Development Unit of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to provide the technical support of the project. Two public observatories were set up to collect real-time data about this issue in 7 countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Peru): the Observatory for Xenophobia and the Observatory for Urban Needs.

With Citibeats’ AI technology, we used Social Big Data as the data source to collect and analyze conversations about migrants in the region from Twitter, online blogs, forums and other digital media. Below, we provide an overview of our findings from data collected from February 2020 – December 2020.

The Observatory for Xenophobia Key Findings

The categories used for the xenophobia observatory included: Criminality, Employment, Gender, Social Services, Coexistence, Health, General Insults, and Comments about Xenophobia.

Comments About Xenophobia dominated conversation

Across all 7 observed countries, society’s comments about xenophobia was by far the most prominent category, representing 43% of the conversation across the board. Specifically, citizens commented on xenophobia and racism.

The second most talked about category was Health, representing 16% of the conversation. Most of the narratives reference Venezuelan doctors and the overall fear of migrants bringing the COVID virus into their respective regions.

Next in line were perceptions of Criminality in regards to migration (14%) and General Insults (12%). The categories with the lowest occurrence were Coexistence (3%) and Social Services (1%) 

Comments About Xenophobia spiked in July & Criminality tripled in late May

In July, the analyzed countries encountered different migrant events, resulting in a 12x increase in the Comments about Xenophobia category.

A 3x increase was also observed in the category of Criminality from May 29 through June 3, which coincides with the murder of George Floyd and the BLM movement.

Costa Rica & Peru have the largest proportion of Comments About Xenophobia

When analyzing all 7 countries separately by individual category, Costa Rica and Peru (each at 65%) showed the largest proportion of the public conversation falling in the Comments About Xenophobia category. 

In Costa Rica, 12% of the commentary mentioned the Nicaraguan population while in Peru, 20% referenced the Venezuelan population.

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The Observatory for Urban Needs

The categories used for the urban needs observatory included: Dwelling, Urban Infrastructure, Citizen Security, Regularization, Social Organization, Education, Public Services, Employment, Health, Food Safety, and Mobility.

Countries showed more diversification in the conversation about urban needs

Compared to the xenophobia observatory, where one category dominated across the board at 43%, the categories were much more diversified across the analyzed countries. The highest category is Citizen Security (25%) where the commentary showed feelings of insecurity in the context of the migratory crisis.

The next highest categories were Regularization (15%), Health (13%), and Employment (13%).

Commentary in the Citizen Security category surged in late October

On October 29-30, there were 11x more comments detected about Citizen Security, much of which was led by Colombia after declarations made by the mayor of Bogotá, which provoked extensive debate.

Conversations by category are highly diversified by country

When analyzing the 7 countries individually by category, the dominant conversations vary quite a bit. In Costa Rica, the highest proportion of the conversation was in Health at 27% compared to 13% of the global average. Most of this happened around April 12th with the Nicaraguan migration.


For the category of Citizen Security, the highest proportions were seen in Ecuador (40%) and Colombia (38%). Commentary about Urban Infrastructure has a greater presence in Argentina than in the rest of the countries, representing 16% of the total Argentine conversation.

When observing the conversations on Regularization, Peru shows greater presence of the subject representing 18% of the country’s total conversation. In Panama, we observed a higher proportion of conversations about Mobility with 7% compared to the 5% global average.

Final Thoughts

These findings provide a better understanding about the magnitude of xenophobic narratives and the social needs stemming from the migration issue. Having real-time, actionable information is key for the formation of timely campaigns that are needed to counteract these conversations. In order to design social interventions in the longer term and allocate proper resources, decision-makers must be aware of these trends.

The value of Social Big Data Social really comes into play for these types of sensitive issues because it allows for a greater scope than traditional surveys, given that they observe real-time discourse from citizens that are not conditioned by structured questions. 

Overall, uncovering these insights is fundamental. After all, migration isn’t a passing trend; migrants have and always will be part of the fabric of society. Peaceful coexistence is therefore necessary for everyone’s greater good. 

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