Heartbreaking vs. Heartwarming Facebook Advertisements by Nonprofits to Help the Rohingya Refugees

Syed Ali Hussain, Helen Wieffering

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is a common observation to see Muslim communities affected by violence and mass migrations. This is often followed by international nonprofits running online campaigns to receive charitable donations. Specifically, the Rohingya refugee crisis spurred Facebook advertisements based on negative emotional appeals. We argue that such advertisements make viewers emotionally numb to the victims. We propose that viewers will respond more altruistically when presented with solutions-oriented information. To test this assumption, we conducted a between-group experiment (n = 102) manipulating message valence (positive vs. negative) of a Facebook advertisement. Results indicate that participants in the positive condition expressed more positive emotions and that nonprofits should cease creating heartbreaking advertisements when similar levels of empathy can be evoked from heartwarming advertisements. Participants in both conditions expressed similar empathy, trust, and intentions to donate. The study offers implications to positively frame the Muslim communities affected by violence on social media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-45
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Muslim Minority Affairs
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Rohingya refugees
  • compassion
  • empathy
  • nonprofits advertisements
  • social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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