We discussed how the type of photographs being shared on Instagram, how people respond to these in the comments section, and the broader implications of social media for remembering conflict (we even touched on how the Holocaust has been commemorated in Germany too). Many thanks to John for the opportunity and I look forward to sharing the final results of the project in the next few months.
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.
Digital Contention can be purchased in hardback and eBook here
‘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
The iconic nature of this image was cemented when eighties rock band Killing Joke repurposed it for the cover of their eponymous debut album, released in August 1980. Nevertheless, McCullin rejected the suggestion that he was a ‘war photographer’ and later expressed profound regret that these conflict images had so little impact on the longevity of the Troubles. His frustration over the efficacy of this ‘witnessing’ was reflected in the title of his 1973 book: Is anybody taking any notice?
Fast forward four decades and it would appear at least some people are interested in the work of McCullin and his cohort of ‘combat’ photographers during the early days of the Troubles. During my conversation with John Coster as part of the 24 Hour Conflict Reportage Newsroom, we discussed the preliminary results of a new study of mine exploring 100 images tagged #thetroubles on Instagram. I found that many of these had been uploaded to the photosharing site to commemorate the anniversary of key events such as the Battle of the Bogside (August 1969), the Brighton hotel bombing (October 1984), and the assassination of Lord Mountbatten (August 1979). In addition to showing the aftermath of high-profile bomb attacks, many images showed the violent clashes between nationalist youths and members of the security forces that have become so deeply ingrained in collective memories of the Troubles.
What was particularly fascinating was the juxtaposition of ordinary life with the sectarian violence that had erupted in the divided society in the late 1960s. For example, an image originally taken by photojournalist Clive Limpkin showed a young woman standing in the foreground of a rubble-strewn street. It had a certain mutability given that there were no visual clues showing its shooting location, with the exception of the caption which confirmed it had been taken during the Battle of the Bogside.
There were also images showing children playing and even eating ice cream in close proximity to armed British soldiers. The dearth of contextual information meant that they could only be identified as being from Catholic or Protestant working-class neighbourhoods based on the paramilitaries that featured on murals or graffiti captured in the background of these images.
Elsewhere, British army veterans shared photographs of themselves and their colleagues during their tours of Northern Ireland between the early seventies and the mid-nineties. In one case, the caption noted that one of the soldiers that featured in the photograph had been killed by a Provisional IRA sniper in South Armagh a few weeks after it had been taken.
Photographs depicting British army personnel on patrol tended to attract the most antagonistic comments from pro-republican commenters. Photographs posted by British Army veterans were frequently met with antagonistic comments such as ‘Go Home’ and “we’ll fight you for 800 more years”. Their hostile interactions with British military enthusiasts in the comments sections of these images invariably degenerated into arguments over the legitimacy of the British presence in Ireland.
The haunting ‘war photography’ of McCullin and his colleagues appear to have found a new audience on Instagram. Irrespective of whether they are collected or collective memories, it is clear that these photographs do not function as a focal point around which shared narratives on the cause of the conflict can be fostered. Indeed, social media is being used to circulate images that illustrate the persistence of partisan, antagonistic forms of public memory in Northern Ireland, two decades on from the Belfast Agreement.
This evening I will be doing an ‘in conversation’ with John Coster (Documentary Media Centre) as part of the 24 hour Conflict Reportage Newsroom. We will be discussing my new project on Instagram images of the Northern Irish Troubles, as well as a general chat about media coverage of the conflict. John has put together an excellent set of online (free) resources for those wanting to learn more about the conflict here.
Northern Ireland has had no representation in brexit at all with no government for 2 years. DUP only represents a tiny minority & not mainstream views. So social media is a place where we learn about this outside of Westminster bubble. #docmediapopuppic.twitter.com/cMoWFZHRTc