Fourth review of Digital Contention in a Divided Society published in the Peace Journalist Magazine

Peace Journalist Magazine, April 2022

The fourth review of Digital Contention in a Divided Society has been published this week in the Peace Journalist Magazine.

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:

Review of Digital Contention written by Kathryn Johnston

Digital Contention in a Divided Society can be purchased here.

DocXplorers series interview about Remembering the Troubles on Instagram

I was delighted to be interviewed by John Coster (Documentary Media Centre) as part of the DocXplorers series last week. We discussed my ongoing research project looking at historical photographs of the Northern Irish Troubles on Instagram.

In conversation with John Coster, Documentary Media Centre, February 2022

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.

Cited in Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolution on the role of media in time of crisis

Photo by Jem Stone/ CC BY

In May 2021, 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 written evidence 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.

PACE adopted a resolution based on this session this week, which referenced my testimony and several of my publications from CascEff and IMPROVER. It also included my recommendations to protect public service media and compel online platforms to take stronger action on misinformation and disinformation.

Many thanks to Eugen Cibotaru for the invitation to contribute to this resolution. I look forward to giving expert testimony to a PACE hearing on ‘the control of online communication’ next month.

Paper presented at PSA Media and Politics Group Annual Conference

PSA MPG Conference 2021, hosted by Canterbury Christ Church University.

I will be presenting a paper at the Political Studies Association Media and Politics Group Annual Conference tomorrow. The conference theme is ‘Communities, Media and Politics’ and more details on the programme can be found here.

The abstract for my paper is below:

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 slides can be viewed below:

Presentation at 6th International Communication and Media Studies Conference, CRCP, Cyprus

Conference hosted by CRCP, Famagusta, Cyprus, 25-26 November 2021

This morning I (virtually) presented a paper at the 6th International Communication and Media Studies Conference, held at the Centre of Research and Communication for Peace, Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta, Cyprus. Many thanks to Hanife and the organising committee for organising such an excellent event.

Panel at 6th International Communication and Media Studies Conference, 26 November 2021

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:

Video of ARUCAD seminar now available online

Webinar at ARUCAD, 2 November 2021.

Last week I spoke to Dr. Hakan Karahasan, Head of the Department of Advertising Design and Communication as part of the seminar series at the Arkin University of Creative Arts and Design (ARUCAD). Many thanks to Hakan and his colleagues for hosting this talk.

The video can be watched below:

Invited book talk at Arkin University of Creative Arts and Design

Book talk, Arkin University, 2 November 2021

This afternoon I will be delivering a Webinar at Arkın University of Creative Arts and Design. Hosted by Dr. Hakan Karashan, I will be discussing some of the key findings from my recently published book Digital Contention in a Divided Society.

The Webinar will be streamed live on the ARUCAD Facebook and YouTube channels from 12pm UK time (2pm Cyprus time).

Many thanks to Hakan for the invitation and I look forward to our conversation on digital citizenship, activism and politics later.

Part-Time Research Associate (fixed term) sought for project on Twitter and ‘Brexit riots’ in Northern Ireland

I am looking to employ a Sheffield student as a Part-Time Research Associate on a project.

The aim is to investigate the key broadcasters and gatekeepers in this hashtag, which was used during the anti-Protocol riots in Northern Ireland in April 2011.

The Research Associate will conduct a Social Network Analysis to identify and visualise key broadcasters and broadcasters in #brexitriots. They would also produce time-series graph, code the most shared URLs and do some qualitative analysis of original Tweet.

A total of 60 hours are available for this position, with the work due to be completed by 31 March 2022. Ideally I am looking for someone with experience of SNA and visualising Twitter networks.

Please note this opportunity is only available to current Sheffield students and recent graduates i.e. those who’ve graduated within the last 3 years who have a graduate account.

Further details on how to apply for the the role can be found here.

Digital Contention review in Journal of Communication

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, out now with Manchester University Press

The second review of Digital Contention in a Divided Society has been published in Journal of Communication (Impact Factor 7.270, rated 6 out of 94 in Communication).

Some excerpts are below:

“Overall this study represents a significant contribution to the discussion about the evolving relationship between social media, contentious politics, and social media movements in post-conflict societies. It is a solid contribution to test the polysemic nature of Twitter hashtags and their capacity to mobilize affective publics in contested and polarized social media environments”

“Reilly’s book is invaluable when it mentions the unprecedented opportunities for citizens to engage in areas such as sousveillance in the face of reporting perceived police violence. Reilly’s work joins the ranks of upcoming scholarly work relevant in the field such as Denisova (2019), Ozduzen (2020), and El Issawi (2021). It is a brilliant example of adding to the author’s previous work (2010) building upon field research and data mining techniques and able to define its own strengths and limitations of the approach”.

“It is a perfect academic study for identifying public engagement in the times of the dysfunctional politics searching for reconciliation through new conceptual tools like silly citizenship in post-Brexit Irish border that will remain disputed in the years to come”.

I am very grateful to Murat Akser (Ulster University) for this very generous review. It can be read below;

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

Interview about Facebook and polarisation on YLE News (Finland)

Interviewed by Egan Richardson, YLE News (Finland) about Facebook and polarisation

This week I was interviewed by Egan Richardson for the All Points North podcast on YLE News (Finland). In light of the decision by YLE News to stop comments on its Facebook posts, we discussed the role of social media platforms in amplifying polarisation and the efficacy of their responses to problems such as hate speech and misinformation. I argued that online platforms often engage in PR exercises to deal with issues such as hate speech and misinformation. Self-regulation is an insufficient policy response to online harms.

A blogpost summarising the interview can be read here and the audio can be accessed here (the segment begins around 16:30).

Many thanks to Egan for the invitation and the interesting chat- great to see a former #digiadvocate doing so well in their career!