About Paul Reilly

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

New article on #PorteOuverte published in Social Media + Society

#PorteOuverte Tweet from journalist Sylvain Lapoix, 13 November 2015

Dr. Stefania Vicari and I have a new article out in Social Media + Society today. Entitled Organisational hashtags during times of crisis: Analysing the broadcasting and gatekeeping dynamics of #PorteOuverte during the November 2015 Paris Terror Attacks, the paper presents one of the first empirical studies of the ‘open door’ hashtag. Funded as part of the EU Horizon 2020 project IMPROVER, this social network analysis explores how these dynamics evolved as the attacks unfolded on 13 November 2015.

The abstract is below:

Twitter hashtags allow citizens to share vital information and make sense of acute crisis events such as terrorist attacks. They also enable those watching from afar to express their sympathy and solidarity with the victims. Perhaps the most well-known of these has been #PorteOuverte (translated into English as ‘Open Door’), first used during the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris before re-emerging during subsequent atrocities in Brussels (March 2016) and Nice (July 2016). The hashtag was originally created by journalist Sylvain LaPoix in order to connect those in Paris looking for somewhere to stay with those able to offer them refuge, before reaching an international audience courtesy of its amplication by public figures and citizens based overseas. This paper adds to this emergent literature by analysing the networked gatekeeping dynamics of #PorteOuverte during the Paris terror attacks. It does so by reviewing the literature on Twitter hashtags and acute crisis events, exploring how Twitter was used during the Paris terror attacks, and presenting the results of a Social Network Analysis (SNA) of 399,256 #PorteOuverte tweets posted as the attacks unfolded on 13 November 2015. Results indicate that professional journalists were key broadcasters during four identified peaks within #PorteOuverte, helping to promote the informational hashtag and connect those directly affected. However, citizens and bloggers played an increasingly important gatekeeping function in the aftermath of events such as the Bataclan siege in Paris. 

Thanks to the two reviewers for their thoughtful feedback, as well as Prof. Zizi Papacharissi and the SM+ S team for helping with the publication. The paper is available to read open access here

MeCCSA Policy network report in Three: d newsletter

MeCCSA Policy Network

Dr. Phil Ramsey (Ulster University) and I have published a report on behalf of the MeCCSA Policy Network in the latest edition of Three: d, the newsletter of the Media, Communication & Cultural Studies Association. We summarise some of the key discussion points from our recent event  ‘Platform politics, online harms and future research directions’, which featured invited presentations from Professor Lina Dencik (Cardiff University), Professor Sonia Livingstone (LSE), Alaphia Zoyab (Reset.tech) and Eleonora Mazzoli (LSE).

Article written with Phil Ramsey in latest edition of Three: d, March 2021

Thanks to the Policy Network team Professor Jonathan Hardy (UAL) and Dr. Maria Michalis (Westminster) for their hard work organising this seminar series and their assistance in preparing the report.

The article can be read online here

Invited seminar at University of Westminster, 4 March

Peace on Facebook, University of Westminster seminar, 4 March 2021 (17:00-19:00)

I am giving an invited seminar at the Communication and Media Research Institute at the University of Westminster tomorrow. Full details on the event are below:

Paul Reilly (University of Sheffield) – Problematising Social Media as Spaces for Intergroup Contact in Divided Societies

About this Event

4 March 2021

17:00-19:00

Register here

Peace on Facebook? Problematising Social Media as Spaces for Intergroup Contact in Divided Societies

As far back as the late sixties, renowned peace theorist Johann Galtung (1967) predicted that the rapid growth of new media technologies would favour associative rather than dissociative 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. This resonates with the rhetoric employed by Peace on Facebook, a project created by the social media giant in partnership with Stanford University, which claimed that the platform provided space for dialogue between social groups traditionally divided along ethnic or sectarian lines. This contribution 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 members of antagonistic groups can be built in deeply divided societies. 

The analysis presented in this seminar suggests that the prospects for peace and positive intergroup contact in such societies are unlikely to be advanced through unstructured citizen activity on social media. These platforms amplify content that reinforces tribalism and political partisanship, thus making it harder to promote reconciliation between antagonists in divided societies. Drawing primarily on the case of Northern Ireland, a society still transitioning out of a thirty-year ethno-nationalist conflict, Paul Reilly 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.

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, out now.

I will draw on research conducted for my new book Digital Contention in a Divided Society.

I have been given a discount code which I can share, so please email me (p.j.reilly@sheffield.ac.uk) or DM me on Twitter (@PaulJReilly) if you want to purchase a copy. 

DCU Book talk today and Westminster Seminar 4 March

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, out now

Digital Contention in a Divided Society was published a few weeks ago. I have been given a discount code which I can share, so please email me (p.j.reilly@sheffield.ac.uk) if you want to purchase a copy. 

Sheffield University have recently published a piece highlighting some of the book’s key findings here

I will be doing a book talk today (25 February), as part of the Interdisciplinary Digital Research Group‘s seminar series at Dublin City University. Many thanks to Tanya Lokot for the invitation and organising the talk. Full details are provided below:

Speaker: Dr Paul Reilly (University of Sheffield)

Book talk: Digital Contention in a divided society: social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland (Manchester University Press, 2021)

Date/time: 25 February, 2021, 4:00-5:00pm GMT

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?

Register to attend this event (via Zoom) here 

I am also giving an invited seminar at the Communication and Media Research Institute at the University of Westminster next week. Full details on the event are below:

Paul Reilly (University of Sheffield) – Problematising Social Media as Spaces for Intergroup Contact in Divided Societies

About this Event

4 March 2021

17:00-19:00

Register here

Peace on Facebook? Problematising Social Media as Spaces for Intergroup Contact in Divided Societies

As far back as the late sixties, renowned peace theorist Johann Galtung (1967) predicted that the rapid growth of new media technologies would favour associative rather than dissociative 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. This resonates with the rhetoric employed by Peace on Facebook, a project created by the social media giant in partnership with Stanford University, which claimed that the platform provided space for dialogue between social groups traditionally divided along ethnic or sectarian lines. This contribution 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 members of antagonistic groups can be built in deeply divided societies. 

The analysis presented in this seminar suggests that the prospects for peace and positive intergroup contact in such societies are unlikely to be advanced through unstructured citizen activity on social media. These platforms amplify content that reinforces tribalism and political partisanship, thus making it harder to promote reconciliation between antagonists in divided societies. Drawing primarily on the case of Northern Ireland, a society still transitioning out of a thirty-year ethno-nationalist conflict, Paul Reilly 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.

Press release and Dublin City University book talk

Digital Contention in a Divided Society was published on 19 January 2021.

Digital Contention in a Divided Society was published a few weeks ago. I have been given a discount code which I can share, so please email me (p.j.reilly@sheffield.ac.uk) if you want to purchase a copy.

Sheffield University have recently published a piece highlighting some of the book’s key findings here

I will be doing a book talk on 25 February, as part of the Interdisciplinary Digital Research Group‘s seminar series at Dublin City University. Many thanks to Tanya Lokot for the invitation and organising the talk. Full details are provided below:

Speaker: Dr Paul Reilly (University of Sheffield)

Book talk: Digital Contention in a divided society: social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland (Manchester University Press, 2021)

Date/time: 25 February, 2021, 4:00-5:00pm GMT

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?

Register to attend this event (via Zoom) here 

Essay on social media and intergroup contact in divided societies published in Cypriot magazine Gaile

“Hands Across the Divide” sculpture in Derry, from Wikimedia Commons

My essay ‘Peace on Facebook? Online Platforms in post-conflict societies‘ has been published in Turkish by the Cypriot magazine Gaile. In this piece I evaluate the role of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in facilitating intergroup contact in divided societies such as Northern Ireland. I also draw on some of the findings from my new book Digital Contention in a Divided Society, which was published last week.

The Turkish language version of my article can be read here

BBC Radio Derby interview on social media and ‘fake news’

the photoshopped image of a road sign outside Burton was reported in the Daily Mail

Yesterday I was interviewed by Andy Twigge on Breakfast on BBC Radio Derby about social media and ‘fake news’. This was in response to a photoshopped image of a road sign in Burton which had circulated on Facebook, before being reported in national media outlets like the Daily Mail and the Mirror. We discussed the reasons why people share ‘fake news’, how we should respond to this, and whether we need a ‘cooling off’ period before posting content online.

Thanks to Andy, Jonathan and the BBC Radio Derby team for the interview. It can be accessed here

Yorkshire Post interview about COVID-19 misinformation

Yorkshire Post special issue on COVID-19, 30 January 2021.

I was interviewed last week for an article that appeared in Saturday’s edition of the Yorkshire Post. As part of their special news report to mark the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was asked to comment on the impact of misinformation on vaccine hesitancy, and the reasons why people may believe false information about the virus and its treatment.

The article can be read here. Many thanks to Geri Scott for her time and the interview.

New essay on social media and intergroup contact in divided societies

“Hands Across the Divide” sculpture in Derry, from Wikimedia Commons

I have a new essay entitled ‘Peace on Facebook? Online Platforms in post-conflict societies‘ out today on Human: Putting the Social into Science. In this piece I evaluate the role of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in facilitating intergroup contact in divided societies such as Northern Ireland. I also draw on some of the findings from my new book Digital Contention in a Divided Society, which was published last week.

Manchester University Press will be holding a launch event for my book Digital Contention in a Divided Society on 29 January (1-2pm). I will be in conversation with John Coster (Doc Media Centre) during an online Webinar, with time allocated for Q+A at the end. 

A description of the event can be found below:

Join Paul Reilly (University of Sheffield) and host, John Coster (Doc Media Centre), to celebrate the launch of Paul’s new book, Digital contention in a divided society: Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland. ‘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 About 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.

You can register for the event here

Digital Contention can be purchased in hardback and eBook here

Reviews:

‘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

Manchester University Press book launch – 29 January 2021

Digital Contention in a Divided Society

Manchester University Press will be holding a launch event for my book Digital Contention in a Divided Society on 29 January (1-2pm). I will be in conversation with John Coster (Doc Media Centre) during an online Webinar, with time allocated for Q+A at the end.

A description of the event can be found below:

Join Paul Reilly (University of Sheffield) and host, John Coster (Doc Media Centre), to celebrate the launch of Paul’s new book, Digital contention in a divided society: Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland. ‘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 About 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.

You can register for the event here

Digital Contention can be purchased in hardback and eBook here

Reviews:

‘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