New article: Countering misinformation and disinformation during Ardoyne parade dispute

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

Standing for Vice-Chair of IAMCR Crisis, Security and Conflict Communication Working Group

IAMCR Crisis, Security and Conflict Communication Working Group

The International Association for Media and Communication Researchers (IAMCR) are hosting their elections for Section and Working Group Heads over the summer. I am standing as Vice-Chair for the Crisis, Security and Conflict Communication Working Group, with the (online) vote due to close on 14 September. Details on the WG, and how to vote, can be found here

My election statement can be found below:

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.

Stay safe and well.

Paul Reilly
Email: p.j.reilly@sheffield.ac.uk
Twitter: @PaulJReilly

VIEWdigital op-ed on future-proofing local journalism after COVID-19

uVIEWdigital op-ed on future of local journalism, 25 May 2021

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

Expert testimony at Council of Europe Parliamentary Committee hearing on role of media in crises

Photo by Jem Stone/ CC BY

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 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 recommendations 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.

Many thanks to Eugen Cibotaru for the invitation and his help with the logistics.

Contribution to VIEWdigital submission to APG on Press Freedom and Sustainability

VIEWdigital submission to APG on Press Freedom and Sustainability

I was happy to play a role in helping Una Murphy with VIEWdigital’s submission to the Stormont All-Party Group on Media Sustainability and Press Freedom. Key points included:

  • Local independent news outlets have provided a vital service to communities during the COVID-19 pandemic by producing local public interest news stories.
  • New approaches to restore trust in media, as well as new ways to raise revenue need to be found, to ensure media sustainability post pandemic
  • There remains a need for the News Recovery Plan put forward by the National Union of Journalists, which called for strategic investments in the hyperlocal sector and for tax credits and interest free loans to be made available to support our journalism, both during and after the pandemic.

Thanks to Una and Brian for the opportunity to contribute.

If you would like to contribute your views on this issue, please email unamurphy@viewdigital.org

Invited talk on social media, parades and protests at Nottingham Trent-28 April 1-2pm

Centre for Study of Inequality, Culture and Difference, NTU.

I will be giving an invited talk at the Research Centre for the Study of Inequality, Culture and Difference at Nottingham Trent University on 28 April (1-2pm). Many thanks to Ben Taylor, Colin Alexander and Laura Coffey-Glover for the invitation.

Details of the talk can be found below:

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.

Abstract:

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:

Click here to join the meeting

 Meeting options

Essay on role of social media in Northern Ireland riots

Footage of a bus being petrol bombed in West Belfast circulated on social media on 7 April.

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

VIEWdigital Review of Digital Contention in a Divided Society

Book review published in View Digital, 12 April 2021

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”.

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, out now

I am very grateful to Una Murphy for this very generous review and to both her and Brian Pelan for publishing this piece.

It can be read here

Digital Contention in a Divided Society is out now and can be purchased in eBook and hardback formats here

MUP book launch video

Digital Contention in a Divided Society was published last month. The official (online) book launch hosted by Manchester University Press was on 29 January, where I was in conversation with John Coster (Doc Media Centre). Thanks to Chris Hart (MUP) for all the support and for making this video available:

Book launch hosted by Manchester University Press, 29 January 2021

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

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. 

New article on blockchain published in Health and Technology

Sarah Murphy, Teresa Murphy and I have a new paper out in the journal Health and Technology.

Entitled Assessing the potential use of blockchain technology to improve the sharing of public health data in a western Canadian province, the article explores stakeholder perspectives on barriers to the adoption of Blockchain to share public health data within health authorities.

The Abstract is below:

This exploratory, qualitative study set out to identify the encountered and perceived barriers to public health (PH) data sharing in a Canadian province with a view to assessing blockchain technology as a potential solution. A topic guide was developed, based on previous research in the area. This was then utilised for ten in-depth, semi-structured interviews with PH professionals between 27 May and 18 June 2019. Each stage of research was congruent with the philosophical underpinning of Gadamerian hermeneutic phenomenology. The major themes that emerged from the data collected were related to the information systems in use, data quality and ownership, as well as client identity management. The recurring core theme throughout all interviews was related to ineffective leadership and management, contributing to each major theme. Overwhelmingly the results show that the majority of barriers faced in this province are human-related. It is concluded that while blockchain technology shows promise for enhancing data sharing in healthcare, it is still many years away from being implemented in this Canadian province. As the results of this study indicate, there are human related barriers that could be addressed in the meantime, which are outside the scope of a technical solution. Future work should explore the perspectives of other stakeholders, such as the provincial government to fully understand the potential for using blockchain to share PH data in this province.

The paper can be read here