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.

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. 

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

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