About Paul Reilly

Digital politics scholar studying N.Irish online communities, online research ethics, social media and sousveillance. Views are my own.

Cited in Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolution on the role of media in time of crisis

Photo by Jem Stone/ CC BY

In May 2021, I provided expert testimony to a hearing organised by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media. The session organised by Rapporteur Annicka Engblom (EPP/CD) focused on the role of the media in times of crises. The agenda can be found here.

In my contribution to the hearing, I drew on my research on social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland and the #PorteOuverte hashtag during the 2015 November Paris Terror Attacks, as well as the findings from my two EC funded projects CascEff and IMPROVER. My written evidence included a call for greater funding for hyperlocal media and for social media companies to face harsher penalties for failing to remove misinformation and disinformation during crises.

PACE adopted a resolution based on this session this week, which referenced my testimony and several of my publications from CascEff and IMPROVER. It also included my recommendations to protect public service media and compel online platforms to take stronger action on misinformation and disinformation.

Many thanks to Eugen Cibotaru for the invitation to contribute to this resolution. I look forward to giving expert testimony to a PACE hearing on ‘the control of online communication’ next month.

Digital Activism article now available open access until April 2022

Pleased to report that our article in Information, Communication & Society will be available open access until 31 March 2022. Entitled ‘Easy data, same old platforms? A systematic review of digital activism methodologies’, this paper draws on the results of a review of 315 articles published between 1994 and 2018.

The abstract can be read below:

Burgess and Bruns (2015) have linked the computational turn in social media research to an increase in the number of studies focussing exclusively on ‘easy data’, such as the ‘low hanging fruit’ provided by Twitter hashtags. This paper explores whether there is a preponderance of such easy data in digital activism research through a systematic review of relevant journal articles published between 2011 and 2018 (N = 315). Specifically, it examines whether computational digital methods have become increasingly prominent in digital activism research during this period. A key focus of the paper is the extent to which digital activism research focused on easily accessible Twitter data, and whether these were obtained via standard API services. Results indicate that (1) traditional research methodologies were more commonly deployed in these articles than digital methods, but (2) Twitter was the most researched platform in the corpus, and (3) single-platform hashtag studies were an archetype of digital activism research alongside single-platform Facebook studies and holistic approaches (hybrid, multi-method & multi-sited, e.g., ethnography). The paper concludes by advocating for greater diversity in terms of the methodological approaches adopted in digital activism research.

Many thanks to the editors, reviewers, and the iCS team for their help in getting this out. And of course to Suay and Jenny, for their collaboration on this. Hopefully the first of many!

The article can be accessed here

Interview to mark one year since publication of Digital Contention

This week marks one year since the publication of my second book Digital Contention in a Divided Society (Manchester University Press). I sat down (virtually) with John Coster, Director of the Documentary Media Centre, to reflect on this. Our conversation touched on a wide variety of topics including the April 2011 ‘Brexit riots‘, the abuse directed at DUP MLA Diane Dodds on Twitter, and how social media bring us together (and tear us apart).

Big thanks to John for the chat. We hope to do this on a regular basis moving forward.

Interviewed by John Coster to mark one year since Digital Contention published

You can still view the video of the book launch below:

New article on digital activism published in Information, Communication & Society

New article with Suay Özkula and Jenny Hayes published in iCS

Suay Özkula, Jenny Hayes and I have an article out today in Information, Communication & Society. Entitled ‘Easy data, same old platforms? A systematic review of digital activism methodologies’, this paper draws on the results of a review of 315 articles published between 1994 and 2018.

The abstract can be read below:

Burgess and Bruns (2015) have linked the computational turn in social media research to an increase in the number of studies focussing exclusively on ‘easy data’, such as the ‘low hanging fruit’ provided by Twitter hashtags. This paper explores whether there is a preponderance of such easy data in digital activism research through a systematic review of relevant journal articles published between 2011 and 2018 (N = 315). Specifically, it examines whether computational digital methods have become increasingly prominent in digital activism research during this period. A key focus of the paper is the extent to which digital activism research focused on easily accessible Twitter data, and whether these were obtained via standard API services. Results indicate that (1) traditional research methodologies were more commonly deployed in these articles than digital methods, but (2) Twitter was the most researched platform in the corpus, and (3) single-platform hashtag studies were an archetype of digital activism research alongside single-platform Facebook studies and holistic approaches (hybrid, multi-method & multi-sited, e.g., ethnography). The paper concludes by advocating for greater diversity in terms of the methodological approaches adopted in digital activism research.

Many thanks to the editors, reviewers, and the iCS team for their help in getting this out. And of course to Suay and Jenny, for their collaboration on this. Hopefully the first of many!

There are 50 free downloads of the article, which can be accessed here

Paper presented at PSA Media and Politics Group Annual Conference

PSA MPG Conference 2021, hosted by Canterbury Christ Church University.

I will be presenting a paper at the Political Studies Association Media and Politics Group Annual Conference tomorrow. The conference theme is ‘Communities, Media and Politics’ and more details on the programme can be found here.

The abstract for my paper is below:

Disinformation in a divided society: contextualising the current ‘information crisis’ in Northern Ireland.

In this paper, I argue that the contemporary information crisis in ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland is neither new nor a manifestation of the growth of online platforms. I begin by  exploring the disinformation strategies deployed by state and non-state actors during the 30-year conflict known colloquially as ‘the Troubles’. Drawing on secondary data, examples such as the ‘psyops’ strategies deployed by the British Army in the early 1970s to discredit the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and protect security forces personnel from prosecution for their role in ‘extra-judicial executions’ are explored. The ‘propaganda of peace’, which sought to mobilise citizens in support of a neoliberal agenda conflating economic prosperity with peace, is also elucidated to show how these practices have evolved in the ‘post-conflict’ era. Recent research on the role of Facebook and Twitter in spreading disinformation during contentious parades and related protests is additionally examined in order to explore how Northern Irish citizens respond to false information shared via social media. Finally, public opinion data from organisations like Ofcom is analysed in order to explore the apparent decline in public trust in professional news media and political institutions in the divided society, which are key characteristics of the information crisis facing contemporary societies. My analysis suggests that digital disinformation is likely to persist and possibly thrive in the absence of a political consensus on how to address complex conflict-legacy issues. In this regard, the current information crisis may have much more in common with the ‘propaganda war’ than previously thought.

The slides can be viewed below:

Presentation at 6th International Communication and Media Studies Conference, CRCP, Cyprus

Conference hosted by CRCP, Famagusta, Cyprus, 25-26 November 2021

This morning I (virtually) presented a paper at the 6th International Communication and Media Studies Conference, held at the Centre of Research and Communication for Peace, Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta, Cyprus. Many thanks to Hanife and the organising committee for organising such an excellent event.

Panel at 6th International Communication and Media Studies Conference, 26 November 2021

The abstract for my presentation can be found below:

Can machines of hate really facilitate peace? Social media as spaces for intergroup contact in divided societies

As far back as the late sixties, Johann Galtung predicted that the rapid growth of new media technologies would favour associative approaches towards peacebuilding. The assumption was that strategies to keep antagonists apart would likely fail due to the development of more efficient means of communication bringing them closer together. Despite the pervasiveness of platformed racism and hate speech, companies like Facebook frequently claim they provide space for dialogue between social groups traditionally divided along ethnic or sectarian lines. This paper critically evaluates these claims by examining the potential contribution of social media platforms to peacebuilding in divided societies. It does so by reviewing the literature on social media peacebuilding initiatives and assessing whether these platforms constitute shared spaces in which positive relationships between antagonistic groups can be built in deeply divided societies. 

The analysis presented in this paper suggests that these platforms amplify content that reinforces tribalism and political partisanship, thus making it harder to promote reconciliation in divided societies.  Drawing primarily on the case of Northern Ireland, a society still transitioning out of a thirty-year ethno-nationalist conflict, the paper suggests that the negative stereotyping of outgroups on social media militates against one of the key tenets of reconciliation, namely that citizens treat each other as individuals rather than anonymous members of the ‘other’ community. Therefore, ‘supervised’ online contact projects, revolving around the use of non-commercial platforms and culminating in face-to-face communication, are much more effective in building peace than the contact facilitated by online platforms such as Facebook.

The slides for the presentation can be viewed below:

Chapter published in Routledge Handbook for Political Journalism

LSE Blog on Greek photojournalism, 2020

Anastasia Veneti, Darren Lilleker and I have a chapter out today in the Routledge Companion to Political Journalism, edited by James Morrison, Jen Birks and Mike Berry.

This international edited collection brings together the latest research in political journalism, examining the ideological, commercial and technological forces that are transforming the field and its evolving relationship with news audiences. Comprising 40 original chapters written by a mix of leading scholars and early-career researchers from around the world, the book offers topical insights from the disciplines of political science, media, communications and journalism. Drawing on interviews, textual analysis, quantitative statistical methods and a range of other empirical and theoretical approaches, the volume is divided into six parts, each focusing on a major theme in the contemporary study of political journalism. Topics covered include far-right media, populism, local political journalism practices, public engagement, audience participation, agenda setting, and advocacy and activism in journalism, with case studies drawn from the United Kingdom, Hungary, Russia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sub-Saharan Africa, Italy, Brazil, the United States, Greece and Spain.

More information on the book is available here.

The abstract for our chapter can be found below:

The importance of space in photojournalist accounts of the anti-austerity protests in Greece

Although it is widely recognised that images play a key role in contentious politics, there remains little research into the spatial factors that shape photojournalist practice during political protests. This paper explores the interactions between photojournalists, police and protesters during public demonstrations, with a specific focus on how space and the (physical) positioning of the former influences their practices. By adopting an interdisciplinary approach drawing on the literature on the social production of space (Lefebvre, 1967), Tilly’s (2003) the spatial perspective on contentious politics, photography (Azoulay, 2012), and photojournalism, our research questions are addressed through an empirical study of photojournalists active in Greece since 2010. The chapter presents the results of a critical thematic analysis of 20 semi-structured interviews conducted with Greek photojournalists between 2015 and 2016. These perspectives are explored in this study due to the frequency with which Greek anti-austerity protests have led to violent confrontations between police and protesters. Our findings show that accessibility to protest spaces, the relationships between professional photographers and other actors involved in protests as well as space affordances constitute vital components of the final visual outcomes that are published and ignite political imaginations about such events.

Many thanks to the fantastic editorial team for their help with the chapter and congratulations on what is a must-read for those interested in political journalism!

If you would like a preprint copy of the paper please feel free to email me.

Review of Digital Contention in a Divided Society published by Hub for Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, published January 2021

The third review of Digital Contention in a Divided Society has been published by the Hub for Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding (HCPB). 

Some excerpts are below:

“As Reilly explains, social media can be considered as vital during the mobilisation of social movements. This view can be seen as a critique to clicktivism because even though there are ‘dangers’ that online platforms may increase division and tension between groups, Reilly argues that there is a chance and hope that, by looking at the Northern Irish case, one can argue that there would be more engagement and interactions between opponent groups in the future”

“Reilly’s study is very useful to discuss how politics and digital citizenship take place in contentious times in divided societies. Whether social media are a part of the ‘problem’ or encourage dialogue between opposing groups, he uses mixed research methods to strengthen his study”

“His work is very rich not only in terms of its literature but also its research methods and techniques and the way he elaborates such a complex situation in a clear way without simplifying the issue. Even though the book uses Northern Ireland as a case study, it is very useful for any kind of study that focuses on digital citizenship and activism as well as digital democracy and how divided societies and groups use social media in the age of digital world”. 

I am very grateful to Dr. Hakan Karahasan (ARUCAD) for this very generous review. It can be read below:

Video of ARUCAD seminar now available online

Webinar at ARUCAD, 2 November 2021.

Last week I spoke to Dr. Hakan Karahasan, Head of the Department of Advertising Design and Communication as part of the seminar series at the Arkin University of Creative Arts and Design (ARUCAD). Many thanks to Hakan and his colleagues for hosting this talk.

The video can be watched below:

Invited book talk at Arkin University of Creative Arts and Design

Book talk, Arkin University, 2 November 2021

This afternoon I will be delivering a Webinar at Arkın University of Creative Arts and Design. Hosted by Dr. Hakan Karashan, I will be discussing some of the key findings from my recently published book Digital Contention in a Divided Society.

The Webinar will be streamed live on the ARUCAD Facebook and YouTube channels from 12pm UK time (2pm Cyprus time).

Many thanks to Hakan for the invitation and I look forward to our conversation on digital citizenship, activism and politics later.