Yesterday I was interviewed by Roberto Perrone on BBC Three Counties Radio about Elon Musk’s proposal to charge commercial companies and governments to use the platform. I raised some questions about the desirability and feasibility of Musk’s plan to make algorithms open source, authenticate humans and remove bots, and whether users might leave the site if these charges are introduced.
Thanks to Rob, Usman, and the BBC Three Counties Radio team for the interview.
In the submission, we discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on independent news outlets such as ViewDIGITAL. Our recommendations include making interest free loans available to local news organisations, and the creation of a public media trust to support the hyperlocal sector in the future. The submission can be viewed here
Kathryn Johnston reflects on how online platforms provide spaces for alternative narratives and more disbursing trends such as the threats against women journalists in Northern Ireland. Some quotes from the review are below:
“This is no arid academic text. Reilly quotes extensively from many of those engaging in debate, referring to them both by their actual names, where appropriate, and their social media identities. That is immensely helpful; and certainly, drawing attention to these narratives and explorations of contested spaces is a rich and profitable seam for all of us to mine”
“Paul Reilly’s book makes an invaluable contribution to the debate on the potential of citizen activity on online platforms to contribute to peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. It deserves attention”
I am very grateful to Kathryn for such a thoughtful review of the book, which can be read in full below:
Digital Contention in a Divided Society can be purchased here.
Ceri Ashwell and I have an article out this week in Information, Communication & Society. Entitled ‘Exploring Discourses of Whiteness in the Mary Beard Oxfam-Haiti Twitterstorm’, this paper draws on the results of a content analysis of tweets discussing the Twitterstorm.
The abstract can be read below:
Social media may have amplified the Black Lives Matter movement, but companies like Facebook are often accused of not doing enough to address online hate speech. These platforms nevertheless have the potential to facilitate informal learning about the color blind racism through which whites rationalize the inequalities and injustices experienced by People of Color (PoC). This paper adds to the emergent literature in this area by exploring a high-profile Twitterstorm in February 2018 following a tweet from Cambridge University Professor Mary Beard about the sexual misconduct of Oxfam aid workers in Haiti. Academics like Dr Priya Gopal faced much criticism for suggesting the tweet was evidence of the white fragility and privilege to which they were frequently subjected. A qualitative content analysis of 1718 unique tweets containing ‘Mary Beard’, posted between 16 and 20 February 2018, was conducted to assess whether there was much evidence of agonistic debate between critics and supporters of Beard about whiteness. Results indicate that there were twice as many tweets criticising Beard for her performative white privilege and frailty than those defending her. While the framing of the Twitterstorm was generally agonistic, there was little evidence of informal learning, with PoC conspicuously under-represented. Indeed, the burden of talking about racism and whiteness fell on the few PoC in the corpus, in much the same way as the ‘pre-social media’ era.
50 free copies of the article are available here and a preprint can be downloaded here.
Many thanks to the editors and reviewers for their help in getting this out. And big congratulations to Ceri for her first publication!
Yesterday I was interviewed by Elise Evans on BBC Radio WM Breakfast about social media and ‘fake news’ during the Ukrainian conflict. This was in response to a report that footage from a disaster movie filmed in Birmingham had been used on social media to suggest the war was a hoax.
We discussed what online platforms are doing to deal with ‘fake news’ and how we can identify false images and videos circulating online.
Thanks to Elise, Louise, Megan and the BBC Radio WM team for the interview.
Last Friday, I provided expert testimony to a hearing organised by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media. The session was titled “the control of online communication: a threat to media pluralism, freedom of information and human dignity”
In my contribution to the hearing, I drew on my research on the role of online platforms in amplifying hate speech. My recommendations included a call for policymakers to lobby online platforms to issue warning messages to those using hate speech on their sites, a recognition that content removal might displace the problem to less popular platforms, and for counter-speech interventions to be promoted as a more effective way to address these behaviours.
Many thanks to Eugen Cibotaru for the invitation and his help with the logistics.
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!
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 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:
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.
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.