The Conversation UK have published an essay of mine on how to follow Northern Irish protests on social media. Drawing on my research on the union flag protests, Ardoyne parade dispute and my recently published book, I argue that we should all be careful about what we share on sites like Facebook and Twitter during the marching season. Key tips such as ‘Check before you share’, ‘know who to follow’ and ‘play the ball, not the person’ are shared in the piece. I also recommend following journalists and factchecking organisations such as FactCheckNI in order to counter the spread of misinformation and disinformation.
Many thanks to Victoria Wood for helping with the pitch and Avery Anapol for providing feedback on the final version. The post can be viewed here
My new article Countering misinformation and disinformation during contentious episodes in a divided society: Tweeting the 2014 and 2015 Ardoyne parade dispute has recently been published in First Monday. Drawing on research that features in my recently published book Digital Contention in a Divided Society, the article presents the results of a qualitative thematic analysis of 7388 tweets containing ‘Ardoyne’. The study found that misinformation and disinformation constituted a very small proportion of the Twitter activity surrounding the 2014 and 2015 parades. Citizens directly challenged those responsible for sharing visual disinformation during this acute event, while journalists fact-checked unsubstantiated claims and refrained from amplifying misinformation in their coverage. However, the potential impact of social media activity upon events on the ground should not be overstated. There were no incidents of sectarian violence in these years directly attributed to false information shared online. Online misinformation and disinformation are likely to remain a feature of these parades for as long as they remain contentious. The Ardoyne impasse was symptomatic of the failure of political elites from the two main sectarian blocs to address issues such as controversial parades and protests. Thanks to Edward J. Valauskas, First Monday and the reviewers for their comments. The article can be read here
I am a Senior Lecturer in Social Media & Digital Society at the University of Sheffield. My research focuses on social media sousveillance, digital activism and the use of digital media to promote better community relations in divided societies. Although I am primarily a qualitative researcher, I have also used Social Network Analysis to explore key broadcasters and gatekeepers within crisis hashtags, such as #PorteOuverte.
I have been a member of IAMCR for the past six years, presenting my work at Leicester, Cartagena, Madrid and Nairobi (virtually) as part of panels organised by the Crisis, Security and Conflict Communication Working Group at Leicester, Cartagena. I have always been particularly impressed by the diversity of the sessions organised by Rikke, Virpi and the team, which demonstrate the broad range of case studies, theoretical frameworks, and research methods in the field of crisis communication. During this time, the Working Group has excelled at facilitating collaborations between communication researchers based in countries as diverse as Australia, Chile, Nigeria and South Africa. A cursory glance at the research interests of members neatly illustrates its value as a ‘meeting point’ for scholars working in journalism studies, media and communication studies, and political communication.
If elected Vice-Chair, I would work with the Chair to promote the activities, accomplishments and publications of Group members. This would include drafting the call for papers, reviewing abstracts and organising panels for the annual conference, co-editing special issues of journals like Media, War and Conflict based on these papers, and increasing membership of the Group. My experience chairing panels at conferences e.g. ECPR, MeCCSA would also enable me to fulfil similar duties at IAMCR events. I believe it is vitally important that the diversity of the Group is consolidated, and would be happy to mentor early career researchers, particularly those from outside Europe and North America, who are new to presenting at international conferences. I would also advocate trying to increase the number of crisis communication practitioners active within the Group, perhaps as part of a seminar series in the run-up to the annual conference.
Drawing on my recent experience as Social Media and Publicity Officer for the MeCCSA Policy Network, I would prioritise building the Group’s social media presence, with a specific focus on using Twitter to curate a list of members and promote their work online. YouTube could also be used to share videos of both in-person and online seminars sponsored by the Group throughout the academic year. Finally, I would explore the possibility of creating a mailing list in order to encourage members to share updates on their research activities. My experience to date suggests that these initiatives would consolidate the identity of the group whilst also encouraging future collaborations between its members.
I am happy to answer any questions from members should they wish to contact me using the details below.
I have an op-ed in VIEWdigital this week, which focuses on how to future-proof journalism after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drawing on my testimony to a hearing organised by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, my recommendations on how to improve media coverage of crises include:
1) Impose harsher penalties on social media companies for failing to remove misinformation and disinformation from their sites.
These could range from punitive fines to more radical measures such as recognising social media companies as media publishers.
2) Prioritise source criticism over objectivity in journalism.
False balance approaches that amplify inaccurate, unverified claims should be avoided. This approach should be implemented alongside existing factchecking initiatives (e.g. Full Fact) to counteract misinformation and disinformation during crises.
3) Protect public service media from government interference.
It is imperative that the editorial independence of these organisations is maintained in the future.
4) Provide financial support to the hyperlocal sector
Hyperlocal news sites should be given financial support from governments in order to reduce their reliance on digital advertising. For instance, the National Union of Journalists News Recovery Plan proposes that tax credits and interest free loans be provided to these outlets in order to ensure their sustainability.
5) Promote solutions journalism as a counterpoint to ‘snackable’ news coverage.
While there remains a need for more empirical evidence showing its impact on behaviour, solutions journalism is a corollary for encouraging citizens to think of collective rather than individual interests during these incidents.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but it would be a start. As I argued previously, we should all do what we can to support local journalists, the ‘first responders’ during crises like the pandemic.
Thanks to Brian and Una for the opportunity. The piece can be read in full here
The NTU Research Centre for the Study of Inequality, Culture and Difference is delighted to welcome Dr Paul Reilly from the University of Sheffield 2-3pm BST on Wednesday 28th April, who will be giving a talk on Social media, parades and protest in a Divided Society: Reflections from post-conflict Northern Ireland.
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? In this paper, I will explore these issues through 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). I examine 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. I conclude by examining whether citizen activity on these online platforms has the potential to contribute to peacebuilding in divided societies such as Northern Ireland. Bio: Dr. Paul Reilly is Senior Lecturer in Social Media & Digital Society at the University of Sheffield. His research focuses on social media sousveillance, digital activism and the use of digital media to promote better community relations in divided societies. He has written two books on the role of digital media in conflict transformation in Northern Ireland (Framing the Troubles Online and Digital Contention in a Divided Society, both with Manchester University Press). His work has also been published in a number of journals including First Monday, Information, Communication & Society, Journalism, New Media & Society, and Policy & Internet.
There is no registration for the seminar, and you can access it using the link below:
I have an essay in Human:Putting the Social into Science on the role of social media in the recent riots in Northern Ireland. It begins by exploring the factors that have underpinned the protests and related violence seen in Northern Ireland over the past two weeks, including the border created down the Irish Sea by the Northern Ireland Protocol and loyalist accusations about ‘two-tier policing’ in the wake of the PPS decision not to not to recommend any prosecutions for republicans who broke COVID rules during the funeral of senior PIRA member Bobby Storey in June 2020. Like the flag protests eight years ago, these street protests have also articulated increasing loyalist dissatisfaction with the Stormont Assembly and the peace process in general.
Drawing on my recently published book Digital Contention in a Divided Society, I argue that there are comparisons to be made in terms of how online platforms were used during the flag protests. Messages calling for loyalists to “shut down Northern Ireland” have reverberated around Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Videos recorded on smartphones showing the effects of the violence in interface areas have again become a focal point for the anger of online commentators. Mis-and disinformation is once again spreading via these platforms, as demonstrated by messages emanating from false flag accounts urging loyalist youths to “earn their strips” [sic] by engaging in violence. While social media may not be ‘fuelling’ these protests, the speed with which such information circulates presents a formidable challenge to those seeking to keep these demonstrations peaceful. Ultimately, political leadership is required if Northern Ireland is to avoid a contentious marching season this summer.
Thanks to Laura Lightfinch and Victoria Wood for their help with this. The piece can be read here
The first review of Digital Contention in a Divided Society has been published in VIEWdigital this week. Some excerpts are below:
“Dr Reilly’s book highlights the need for ongoing discussions on the role of digital media in societies such as Northern Ireland, which face deep divisions. It is a place where contentious policies developed at polished tables of ministers and civil servants can result in a young person throwing a petrol bomb at a so called ‘peace wall’.
“It is an important addition to research on digital disinformation and misinformation in a society were conflict and division remain worryingly close to the surface”.
I am very grateful to Una Murphy for this very generous review and to both her and Brian Pelan for publishing this piece.
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