November 29, 2023 | News | Spotlight

Number of Twitter Friends Increases After Migration


Social integration of migrants analyzed using Twitter data


How are migrants’ social integration processes reflected in social media? Is it possible to detect the evolution of new social connections? Jisu Kim, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, investigated these questions in a study with researchers from Saarland University, the World Bank, and Rutger University.

The researchers analyzed Twitter (now X) data from a very large and publicly available archive of tweets (posts made on the Twitter platform) using tweets from 2017 to 2018. "We distinguished between migrants and non-migrants by tracking the changes in their location based on their geolocalized tweets. At the same time, we determined the migration date, which corresponds to the time when a migrant started tweeting from the destination country," explains Jisu Kim. The Twitter behavior of migrants and non-migrants was then compared.


By analyzing the data, the researchers were able to see that the increase in the number of online friendships is a consequence of migration. "We found that the length of a migrant's stay in the U.S. had an impact on the number of friends living in the U.S. with whom they were friends on Twitter. This shows how offline (re)location plays a significant role in the formation of immigrants’ online networks. Interestingly, however, the number of friendships did not change significantly until the third year after migration," says Jisu Kim. Further analysis showed that this increase in friends was related to several characteristics of the users. Male migrants between the ages of 19 and 29, who used more English in their tweets after migration, and who migrated four or more years ago were most likely to see an increase in the proportion of their friends from the destination country. Looking at the proportion of friends from the country of origin in general, people do not make as many connections from the country of origin after migration as they did before. However, the longer migrant stay in the destination country, the more friends from their country of origin they gradually add on Twitter.

The increasing importance of online social platforms such as Twitter in people's lives and the growing value of online communities motivated this study. At the same time, the social integration of migrants is seen as a crucial dimension of their experience, affecting various facets of their integration, including economic and cultural aspects.

"Our work highlights the key role of online social activities in the integration process of migrants," explains Jisu Kim. "Of course, our study has some limitations. One is the typology of the Twitter network, which may differ from people's real-life social networks. In future studies, we will look more closely at the extent to which the social integration observed online is reflected in real-life interactions.”

Original publication

Jisu Kim, Soazic Elise Wang Sonne, Kiran Garimella, André Grow, Ingmar Weber, Emilio Zagheni: Online Social Integration of Immigrants: Evidence from Twitter in migration research. DOI: 10.1093/migration/mnad017

 Authors and affiliations

Jisu Kim, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany

Soazic Elise Wang Sonne, World Bank, Washington DC, USA

Kiran Garimella, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, USA

André Grow, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany

Ingmar Weber, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany

Emilio Zagheni, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany



big data, gender, international migration, social integration, Twitter


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The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.