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

Post on social media sousveillance

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 12.12.11

 

I have written a post for Human: Putting the Social into Science on the social media sousveillance footage recorded during the Black Lives Matter protests across the world. I argue that although this footage may not guarantee the conviction of the officers responsible caught on camera attacking protesters, it clearly provides a focal point for the broad coalition of protesters mobilised in anger at the police killing of George Floyd. Thanks to Laura Lightfinch, Sophie Armour and Victoria Wood for their help with this. The piece can be read here

Op-ed on local journalism in Sheffield Telegraph

I have had an op-ed in the Sheffield Telegraph today. I argue that local journalism is playing a key role in providing support for communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to Victoria Wood and the staff at the Telegraph for the opportunity. The piece can be found here

Democratic Audit post on coronavirus ‘fake news’

I have written a post for Democratic Audit on the spread of coronavirus ‘fake news’ over the past few months. I discuss how false stories about COVID-19 ‘cures’ can have deadly consequences, as seen in Iran where hundreds of people died after drinking methanol in the mistaken belief it would protect them from the virus. While conspiracy theories about the virus being a ‘biological weapon’ have emerged online, their impact should not be exaggerated. Instead, we should focus on the misinformation spread by political leaders such as Donald Trump, which is more likely to have an impact on the behaviour of citizens.

Thanks to Alice Park and the fantastic DA team for their help in publishing this. The post can be found here

Quoted in Forge Press article on social media censorship and online harms

I was interviewed a few weeks ago by Stephanie Lam from Forge Press about the recent UK Government Online Harms White Paper, which proposed that OfCom be given powers to fine social media companies who fail to remove harmful content from their platforms. Thanks to Stephanie for the interview and for writing the piece. It can be accessed here

 

New article published on social media and sousveillance

I have a new article in the journal First Monday out today. Entitled ‘PSNIRA vs. peaceful protesters? YouTube, ‘sousveillance’ and the policing of the union flag protests,’ it explores how Youtubers responded to footage of alleged police brutality during the union flag protests in Northern Ireland between December 2012 and March 2013. 

Drawing on a qualitative analysis of 1,586 comments posted under 36 ‘sousveillance’ videos, I argue that responses to these videos were shaped by competing narratives on the legitimacy of police actions during the flag protests. This footage focussed attention on the anti-social behaviour of the protesters rather than the alleged police brutality referred to in the video descriptions. The paper concludes by considering the problematic nature of exploring imagined sousveillance, as was the case here, through the collection and analysis of ‘easy data’ scraped from online platforms such as YouTube. The paper can be accessed here

MeCCSA 2020 presentation

I attended the annual MeCCSA conference  at the University of Brighton last week, which brought together a very diverse group of Media, Communication and Cultural Studies researchers to discuss its core theme ‘Media Interactions and Environments.’

My paper, ‘Peace on Facebook? Problematising social media as spaces for intergroup contact in divided societies’, critically evaluated the cyber optimist notion that ICTs might facilitate more associative models of peacebuilding in contemporary societies. Using examples such as Peace on Facebook, I argued that the corporate logic of social media has significant implications for efforts to foster positive intergroup contact in deeply-divided societies. Online platforms are not benign actors and they turbocharge mis-and disinformation that contributes to sectarian violence in countries such as India and Northern Ireland.  The slides can be found below:

 

Article on Twitter and NI leaders’ debate published

I have an article, ‘Remain Alliance’ win BBC Northern Ireland Leaders’ Debate (online at least), in UK Election Analysis 2019: Media, Voters and the Campaign, out today. In the piece, I discuss some preliminary findings from a Twitter study of reactions to the BBC NI Leaders’ debate on 10 December 2019.

Many congratulations (and thanks) to the fantastic Bournemouth University editorial team of Dan Jackson, Einar Thorne, Darren Lilleker and Nathalie Weidhase. Looks like an excellent read!

#SocMedHE19 Virtual presentation on Twitter and Higher Education teaching

Unfortunately I am unable to attend today’s Social Media for Learning in Higher Education conference at Edge Hill University. Thanks to the conference organisers for allowing me to submit a virtual presentation.  The screencast can be found here and the abstract and slides for my talk are below:

‘Curation, Connectivity and Creativity: Reflections on using Twitter to teach Digital Activism

Dr. Paul Reilly, University of Sheffield

 

How can teachers leverage the connective affordances of Twitter to enhance student learning within Higher Education? How do students respond to content shared on module hashtags? In this virtual presentation, I will consider these questions by discussing my own experience of using Twitter in my Digital Activism modules over the past five years. During this period, I created hashtags such as #actandprotest and #digiadvocates in order to curate digital resources for my students at Leicester and Sheffield, as well as to encourage them to share relevant news items, blogs, and research papers at appropriate points during the course. I will reflect on what I refer to as the three ‘C’s of using Twitter in the context of Higher Education. First, the microblogging site provides unprecedented opportunities for the curation of resources. In the case of my Digital Activism teaching, real-time case studies such as Occupy Wall Street and the ‘Arab Spring’ were integrated into sessions through the use of Twitter to share links to blogs and news media coverage. Second, there is the connection with students who were using links shared on these hashtags to deepen their knowledge about theories such as connective action. Some even went as far as to use #actandprotest and #digiadvocates to share resources they had found with their classmates (and me). Finally, there is the ability to showcase the creativity of the students studying Digital Activism. For example, subvertisements (remixed logos of corporations that critique consumerism) were shared under #digiadvocates with the consent of the students who created them. This received very positive feedback from the class, as well as academics and students who were not enrolled in the module but were following the  hashtag. The presentation concludes by considering how Twitter may be used to support student learning in the future.

The conference programme can be found here and you can follow on Twitter using #SocMedHe19