Book talk as part of ICTs and Peacebuilding event- 19 January

Hub for Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding (HCPB)

I will be speaking about my forthcoming book Digital Contention in a Divided Society at an event organised by the Hub for Hybrid Communication in Peacebuilding entitled ‘ICTs, social media and peacebuilding’. Dr. Phil Ramsey (Ulster University) and Dr. Stef Pukallus (Sheffield University) have kindly agreed to act as respondents during the book launch.

A full description of the event (courtesy of the HCPB) can be found below.

Diana Dajer will give a presentation entitled: ‘Cracking the Code of Tech for Peace: International Perspectives of Peacetech’. Diana is Director of Colombian Institute of Studies of the Public Ministry, working at the intersection between public innovation, education and participatory democracy to guarantee human rights, fight corruption and improve public services. Social and political inclusion in post-conflict societies is Diana’s main interest. Her career is rooted in Colombia and Latin America’s state-building efforts, working in projects involving democratic innovation, human rights and conflict transformation. Before her current position as a public servant she founded and directed Policéntrico, a start-up that fosters sustainable development and participatory democracy in Colombia. She has also been a Build Peace Fellow, where she conducted a research for action project to design Our Development, a participatory budgeting game and tech tool for Medellín. Likewise, she has also worked as an advisor for the Colombian Ministry of Interior, as Project Manager of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s Rule of Law Programme for Latin America, as a researcher for the Toledo International Centre for Peace, and as a consultant at Purpose. She holds a degree in law, a graduate degree in administrative law, and a master’s degree in public policy. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, a Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship Research for Action Awardee, and a Colciencias Scholar.

Second, we will launch Paul Reilly’s latest book ‘Digital Contention in a Divided Society: Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland’ (just published by MUP).

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.

Northern Slant interview about new book

Interview with Connor Daly, Northern Slant, 19 December 2020

I was interviewed by Connor Daly from Northern Slant last week. We spoke about my new book Digital Contention in a Divided Society, due out on 19 January 2021. Among the topics discussed were the flag protests as a watershed moment for digital citizenship in Northern Ireland, the prospects of social media improving community relations, and the problems associated with using social media as a barometer of public opinion.

Many thanks to Connor and Jenny for the opportunity and their help in bringing this to fruition. Hopefully there will be a podcast in the New Year during which we will discuss these issues further.

Digital Contention can be preordered online now The Northern Slant interview can be read be read here

Essay published by Hub for Study of Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding

Hub for Study of Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding

I recently became an associate member of the Hub for the Study of Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding, a new interdisciplinary group of researchers who aim to understand the communicative conditions for civil peace. Hosted by the Centre for Freedom of the Media (University of Sheffield), in collaboration with the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (University of Manchester), the Hub will examine how both representational and non-representational forms of communication can help construct peace.

I have written a short essay discussing some of my findings from my forthcoming book Digital contention in a divided society. In this piece, I problematise social media peacebuilding initiatives such as Peace on Facebook, and argue that we should be wary of such ‘technological solutionism’. I explore how social media may be enabling the ‘post-Agreement’ generation in Northern Ireland to mobilise in policy areas that transcend the tribal politics of its violent past.

Thanks to Stef Pukallus and Catherine Arthur for their support and help with this. The post can be read here and my book can be preordered here

Book on social media, parades and protest in Northern Ireland update

I have received the proofs for my new book Digital Contention in a Divided Society: Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland, due to be published by Manchester University Press on 1 February 2020.

Here is a brief description of 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.

The book will be available in both print and eBook format and can be pre-ordered here

Book chapter on Digital media and disinformation in Northern Ireland

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Delighted to receive my copy of Disinformation and Digital Media as a challenge for Democracy this morning. My chapter ‘Digital Disinformation in a deeply divided society: reflections from Northern Ireland” draws on myresearch over two decades on how digital media is used to frame contentious politics in Northern Ireland. I argue that digital disinformation around contentious episodes are likely to thrive due to the failure of political elites to address conflict-legacy issues. I argue that the current genre of information disorders have much in common with the propaganda deployed by both elite and non-elite actors during the conflict.

The book can be purchased here.

Many thanks to Georgios Terzis, Dariusz Kloza, Elzbieta Kuzelewska, Daniel Trottier for editing this excellent contribution to an important field. 

 

 

 

Northern Irish Troubles on Instagram

In an interview last year, Don McCullin commented that “If I can haunt people with my pictures I have done my job”. Working in conflict zones throughout the 1960s, the legendary British war photographer focussed attention on previously under-represented issues such as the PTSD experienced by US marines during the Vietnam War. He was one of several photojournalists credited with shaping the ‘visual economy’ of the Northern Irish Troubles in the early seventies. In a Sunday Times photo-story entitled ‘War on the Home Front’, published in December 1971, he captured a series of images illustrating the brutal nature of the clashes between British soldiers and civilians in Derry/Londonderry. Perhaps one of his most iconic images was a photograph of a group of young boys jumping over a graffiti-covered wall after British soldiers had fired CS gas at them, which was compared to an image of a battlefield trench from the First World War.

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 post was originally published by the Documentary Media Centre and is reproduced here with their permission.

Discussing #TheTroubles on Instagram during 24 hour Conflict Reportage Newsroom

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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. 

Join us on Facebook Live after 7pm and please do participate in the conversation on Twitter using #ConflictReportage24

Update: The video of our discussion can be viewed here

New article published on social media and sousveillance

I have a new article in the journal First Monday out today. Entitled ‘PSNIRA vs. peaceful protesters? YouTube, ‘sousveillance’ and the policing of the union flag protests,’ it explores how Youtubers responded to footage of alleged police brutality during the union flag protests in Northern Ireland between December 2012 and March 2013. 

Drawing on a qualitative analysis of 1,586 comments posted under 36 ‘sousveillance’ videos, I argue that responses to these videos were shaped by competing narratives on the legitimacy of police actions during the flag protests. This footage focussed attention on the anti-social behaviour of the protesters rather than the alleged police brutality referred to in the video descriptions. The paper concludes by considering the problematic nature of exploring imagined sousveillance, as was the case here, through the collection and analysis of ‘easy data’ scraped from online platforms such as YouTube. The paper can be accessed here

Article on Twitter and NI leaders’ debate published

I have an article, ‘Remain Alliance’ win BBC Northern Ireland Leaders’ Debate (online at least), in UK Election Analysis 2019: Media, Voters and the Campaign, out today. In the piece, I discuss some preliminary findings from a Twitter study of reactions to the BBC NI Leaders’ debate on 10 December 2019.

Many congratulations (and thanks) to the fantastic Bournemouth University editorial team of Dan Jackson, Einar Thorne, Darren Lilleker and Nathalie Weidhase. Looks like an excellent read!

In conversation with John Coster, Reportage Club, Leicester

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Thanks to @333Dominika for the picture!

Last Friday (8th March), I had the pleasure of speaking to John Coster as part of the Reportage Club at the Documentary Media Centre pop-up in Leicester. We spoke about my work on social media and political polarisation in Northern Ireland, how loyalists and republicans use digital media to frame the Troubles, Brexit, and the future of the CAIN archive.

Many thanks to all who attended and for their interest in my work. Also, big shout out to Jennifer Jones, Richard Hall and Tina Barton for their live tweeting!