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.