New Book out today: Digital Contention in a Divided Society

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, published 19 January 2021

My new book Digital Contention in a Divided Society: Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland has been published today by Manchester University Press.

Here is a brief description of the book:

How are platforms such as Facebook and Twitter used by citizens to frame contentious parades and protests in ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland? What do these contentious episodes tell us about the potential of information and communication technologies to promote positive intergroup contact in the deeply divided society? 

These issues are addressed in what is the first in-depth qualitative exploration of how social media were used during the union flag protests (December 2012-March 2013) and the Ardoyne parade disputes (July 2014 and 2015). The book focuses on the extent to which affective publics, mobilised and connected via expressions of solidarity on social media, appear to escalate or de-escalate sectarian tensions caused by these hybrid media events. It also explores whether citizen activity on these online platforms has the potential to contribute to peacebuilding in Northern Ireland.

Reviews of Digital Contention in a Divided Society

‘Much that is written about the politics of Northern Ireland is based on highly selective accounts of the available evidence. Reilly eschews this approach, subjecting the political use of social media to sustained critique in this empirically rich study. In so doing, he makes a very valuable contribution to scholarship.’
Phil Ramsey, Lecturer in the School of Communication and Media, Ulster University

‘A timely historical account cataloguing a rich collection of the author’s empirical research, the book evinces continuity in polarisation among Northern Irish communities online. Showing how the use of social media adds further complexity to community relations, for instance through the pointed concept of ‘silly citizenship’, Reilly meticulously dispels earlier techno-optimism while further contextualising the algorithmic power of social media.’
Dan Mercea, Reader in Media and Communication, City, University of London

‘While the darkest days of Northern Ireland’s ‘troubles’ are over, the divisions have left lasting scars and in the twenty-first century the competing interpretations of the conflict and the country’s constitutional status remain entrenched. Reilly’s work explores the contribution of digital citizenship to peacebuilding within this complex context. The comprehensive and engaging analysis explores how a society beset with deeply held prejudices form online communities, share content and can be misled by misinformation so contributing to a range of wider debates on the role of digital media. As with many studies Reilly identifies positives, such as Citizen Assemblies and accounts that scrutinize decision making, as well as the acts of ‘silly citizenship’ which satires sectarianism and can exacerbate divide. Reilly’s work is an important contribution to our understanding of digital politics, how platforms can be a force for good or ill depending on the motivations and behaviour of users, and how forms of digital citizenship can support or disrupt societal healing processes. Reilly’s study is a must read for scholars and students seeking to understand the complex roles which digital technologies play in socio-political life as well as for those seeking to understand the dynamics of present day Northern Ireland and how it might face the challenges of a post-Brexit world.’
Darren Lilleker, Professor of Political Communication, Bournemouth University

The book is available in both print and eBook format and can be ordered here.

I will be in conversation with John Coster (Doc Media Centre) at a book launch event organised by Manchester University Press on 29 January (1-2pm). For information on how to register, please see here

Book talk as part of ICTs and Peacebuilding event- 19 January

Hub for Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding (HCPB)

I will be speaking about my forthcoming book Digital Contention in a Divided Society at an event organised by the Hub for Hybrid Communication in Peacebuilding entitled ‘ICTs, social media and peacebuilding’. Dr. Phil Ramsey (Ulster University) and Dr. Stef Pukallus (Sheffield University) have kindly agreed to act as respondents during the book launch.

A full description of the event (courtesy of the HCPB) can be found below.

Diana Dajer will give a presentation entitled: ‘Cracking the Code of Tech for Peace: International Perspectives of Peacetech’. Diana is Director of Colombian Institute of Studies of the Public Ministry, working at the intersection between public innovation, education and participatory democracy to guarantee human rights, fight corruption and improve public services. Social and political inclusion in post-conflict societies is Diana’s main interest. Her career is rooted in Colombia and Latin America’s state-building efforts, working in projects involving democratic innovation, human rights and conflict transformation. Before her current position as a public servant she founded and directed Policéntrico, a start-up that fosters sustainable development and participatory democracy in Colombia. She has also been a Build Peace Fellow, where she conducted a research for action project to design Our Development, a participatory budgeting game and tech tool for Medellín. Likewise, she has also worked as an advisor for the Colombian Ministry of Interior, as Project Manager of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s Rule of Law Programme for Latin America, as a researcher for the Toledo International Centre for Peace, and as a consultant at Purpose. She holds a degree in law, a graduate degree in administrative law, and a master’s degree in public policy. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, a Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship Research for Action Awardee, and a Colciencias Scholar.

Second, we will launch Paul Reilly’s latest book ‘Digital Contention in a Divided Society: Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland’ (just published by MUP).

How are platforms such as Facebook and Twitter used by citizens to frame contentious parades and protests in ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland? What do these contentious episodes tell us about the potential of information and communication technologies to promote positive intergroup contact in the deeply divided society?

These issues are addressed in what is the first in-depth qualitative exploration of how social media were used during the union flag protests (December 2012-March 2013) and the Ardoyne parade disputes (July 2014 and 2015). The book focuses on the extent to which affective publics, mobilised and connected via expressions of solidarity on social media, appear to escalate or de-escalate sectarian tensions caused by these hybrid media events. It also explores whether citizen activity on these online platforms has the potential to contribute to peacebuilding in Northern Ireland.

Essay on role of online disinformation in Capitol Building invasion

The US Capitol Building was overrun with pro-Trump insurrectionists on 6 January 2020

I have an essay in Human:Putting the Social into Science on the role of online disinformation and US President Donald Trump in the violent scenes at the US Capitol Building last week. I argue that the pro-Trump mob are a manifestation of an information crisis fed by Trump, which has created an alternative reality in which the unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud are believed to be true. I argue that political leaders should be wary of legitimising ‘fake news’ given that they may undermine trust in the institutions they purport to represent. Thanks to Laura Lightfinch and Victoria Wood for their help with this. The piece can be read here

Interviewed about Trump and social media conspiracy theories

Image of protesters at Capitol Building, Washington D.C, 6 January 2021

Yesterday I was interviewed by Stephen Jones (Press Association) about Donald Trump’s role in amplifying disinformation about the 2020 US Presidential Election. We discussed a variety of issues, including the rise of the right-wing information ecosystem in the US, how social media companies like Facebook have responded to disinformation campaigns, and Trump’s use of online platforms to question the credibility of the 2020 US Election result.

Thanks to Stephen for the interview, which can be read in the following publications:

UK politicians warned after Trump ‘incites’ riots at Capitol building, Belfast Telegraph, 7 January 2021. 

UK politicians warned after Trump ‘incites’ riots at Capitol building, Express and Star, 7 January 2021. 

UK politicians warned after Trump ‘incites riots at Capitol building, Oxford Mail, 7 January 2021.

UK politicians warned after Trump ‘incites riots at Capitol building, Salford City News, 7 January 2021.

UK politicians warned after Trump ‘incites riots at Capitol building, The London Economic, 7 January 2021.

UK politicians warned after Trump ‘incites riots at Capitol building, Winsford Guardian, 7 January 2021.

Northern Slant interview about new book

Interview with Connor Daly, Northern Slant, 19 December 2020

I was interviewed by Connor Daly from Northern Slant last week. We spoke about my new book Digital Contention in a Divided Society, due out on 19 January 2021. Among the topics discussed were the flag protests as a watershed moment for digital citizenship in Northern Ireland, the prospects of social media improving community relations, and the problems associated with using social media as a barometer of public opinion.

Many thanks to Connor and Jenny for the opportunity and their help in bringing this to fruition. Hopefully there will be a podcast in the New Year during which we will discuss these issues further.

Digital Contention can be preordered online now The Northern Slant interview can be read be read here

Article on COVID-19 infodemic in France Forum

I have had an article published in the most recent edition of France Forum. I argue that we all have a responsibility to verify information about COVID-19 before we share it online. I also suggest we should be wary of the misinformation about the pandemic shared by politicians, which has the potential to hamper efforts to flatten the curve.

Many thanks to Marc Foucault and Elisabeth Cazeaux for the invitation to write this piece. An English language version can be read below.

BBC Radio Foyle interview on US legal action against Facebook

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Yesterday I was interviewed by David Hunter on BBC Radio Foyle’s The News at One on the US government antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. We discussed the precedent for this effort to break up Facebook’s control of other social media platforms and services, and the implications for citizens’ rights if this action is successful.

Thanks to David, Dean McLaughlin and BBC Radio Foyle for the invitation. The interview can be heard here

Essay published by Hub for Study of Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding

Hub for Study of Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding

I recently became an associate member of the Hub for the Study of Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding, a new interdisciplinary group of researchers who aim to understand the communicative conditions for civil peace. Hosted by the Centre for Freedom of the Media (University of Sheffield), in collaboration with the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (University of Manchester), the Hub will examine how both representational and non-representational forms of communication can help construct peace.

I have written a short essay discussing some of my findings from my forthcoming book Digital contention in a divided society. In this piece, I problematise social media peacebuilding initiatives such as Peace on Facebook, and argue that we should be wary of such ‘technological solutionism’. I explore how social media may be enabling the ‘post-Agreement’ generation in Northern Ireland to mobilise in policy areas that transcend the tribal politics of its violent past.

Thanks to Stef Pukallus and Catherine Arthur for their support and help with this. The post can be read here and my book can be preordered here

Two new articles in Journal of Social Media for Learning

Journal of Social Media for Learning launched in December 2020

I have two articles in the inaugural volume of the Journal of Social Media for Learning, which has been published this month.

Curation, connections and creativity: reflections on using Twitter to teach digital activism builds on my presentation at last year’s Social Media for Learning in Higher Education conference. In this paper I draw on my experience of using Twitter over the past decade, reflecting on the how student watching of hashtags may help support their learning. The paper can be accessed here and the slides from my presentation are below.

Presentation from 2019 Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference

The second article is a collaboration with my fantastic PhD researcher Paul Fenn. Problematising the use of Snapchat in Higher Education Teaching and Learning reviews the literature on how IM apps have been used to support university teaching to date. We reflect on issues relating to privacy, surveillance and the responsibility of educators to make students aware of how platforms monetise user data. This paper can be accessed here

Many thanks to Dawne Irving-Bell and the editorial team for their help in the publication process and for bringing together a fantastic first volume of the journal.

Doc Media Centre newsroom on Higher Education

On 20 November, the Doc Media Centre hosted a newsroom on the future of Higher Education after COVID-19.

Our first guest was Dr. Dawne Irving-Bell (Edge Hill University), founder of the National Teaching Repository. We spoke about Dawne’s inspiration for the NTR, how universities have been transformed by the pandemic, and the future of open educational resources. We also plugged the forthcoming inaugural edition of the Journal of Social Media for Learning, which Dawne will be launching next month.

Interview with John Coster and Dr. Dawne Irving-Bell, 18 November 2020

Our next guest was Professor Richard Hall (De Montfort University), who reflected on how universities have responded to COVID-19, the impact of neoliberal managerialism on the mental health and wellbeing of staff, the hidden cost of academic labour, and the future of Higher Education post-pandemic. We also discussed Richard’s forthcoming book The Hopeless University (to be published in 2021 by Mayfly Press). The full conversation can be viewed here

In conversation with John Coster and Prof. Richard Hall, 20 November 2020

Many thanks to Dawne and Richard for speaking to us. These were two very inspirational ‘in conversations’ that gave John and I a lot of food for thought. We look forward to having you both back at the DMC soon 🙂