ECREA presentation exploring #thetroubles on Instagram #ecrea2021

an example of Don McCullin’s iconic photojournalism during the Troubles

Last year I wrote a blogpost on a project exploring how Instagram is used to share photographs of the Northern Irish Troubles. This morning I presented preliminary findings from this work at the 8th European Communication Conference organised by ECREA.

My talk was part of a panel entitled ‘Emotions, rituals and memories’, which should be made available later to watch on the conference platform.

The abstract for the paper is below:

Conflicting Memory and Social Media: Memorialising the Northern Irish Troubles on Instagram

Photosharing app Instagram provides unprecedented opportunities for distributing photographs challenging the ‘official memory’ of conflict. The ‘connective turn’ not only renders conflict photography searchable, but aggregates the memories of  traumatised communities. This paper adds to the nascent literature in this area by exploring how Instagram is used to share photographs of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles,’ a low-intensity conflict that resulted in 3,600 fatalities and left many more bereaved, injured and traumatized. Twenty years after the Agreement, Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society in which competing narratives over the conflict and its constitutional status remain deeply entrenched. This study explored the visual representation of these narratives on Instagram, with a specific focus on the type of images shared and the comments they generated from other Instagrammers. A content and visual framing analysis of 100 historical images tagged #thetroubleswas conducted between August and December 2019 in order to explore these issues. Results indicate that images of everyday life during the conflict, such as children playing in desolate urban landscapes, and British soldiers, typically depicted holding weapons against a backdrop of civil unrest, were the most prominent visual representations under this hashtag. Those shared by British army veterans depicting their experiences typically sparked a polarised debate between pro-British and pro-republican commenters on the origins of the conflict. While the affordances of Instagram broaden participation in processes of memorialization, they also lay bare the absence of a shared narrative on the violent past in ‘post-conflict’ societies such as Northern Ireland.

The slides can be viewed below:

Video of PSA MPG ‘in conversation’ now available

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, MUP 2021.

Last week I spoke to Dr Emily Harmer (University of Liverpool) about my new book, Digital contention in a divided society – Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland, as part of the Political Studies Association Media and Politics Group Seminar Series.

The video can be watched below:

Video of PSA MPG event

Many thanks to Emily and James Dennis (University of Portsmouth) for organising the event- I really enjoyed it!

Video: IAMCR panel on communication and peacebuilding

I was delighted to participate in a panel organised by the Hub for Hybrid Communications in Peacebuilding and the Crisis, Security and Conflict Communication Working Group as part of the International Association for Media and Communication Researchers annual conference last month.

Entitled ‘The fundamental importance of communication in peacebuliding‘, the panel brought together colleagues from Durham, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield to explore the communicative aspects of peacebuilding.

Poster advertising IAMCR panel

Diana Dajer (University of Oxford) and I delivered a paper comparing social media and intergroup contact during contentious episodes in Columbia and Northern Ireland. The abstract for our paper is below:

Social media and intergroup contact during contentious episodes in divided societies: Comparative perspectives from Colombia and Northern Ireland

Diana Dajer, University of Oxford

Paul Reilly, University of Sheffield

Abstract

This paper adds to the emergent literature on social media and intergroup contact in post-conflict societies through a comparative study of contentious episodes in Colombia and Northern Ireland. A qualitative case study approach is used to explore how online social media platforms act as ‘connectors’ and ‘dividers’ in these two societies, both of which remain deeply-divided along sectarian lines despite peace settlements being in place. Using case studies such as the UK EU Referendum and the plebiscite on the Colombian peace agreement (both held in 2016), the paper examines whether there is any evidence of the ‘agonistic pluralism’ envisaged by Mouffe (2013), where former enemies are recast as ‘adversaries’ who respectfully disagree about contentious issues. The cases show that unstructured online contact during contentious episodes was invariably antagonistic, rather than agonistic. Despite initiatives to foster intercommunity dialogue online, pre-existing ‘offline’ polarisation was mirrored and intensified by the affective publics mobilised on social media, with online disinformation and misinformation exacerbating tensions between sectarian communities.

The online conference paper can be found here (please note you will need to registered for the conference to access this).

The panel was recorded and edited by our chair Virpi Salojärvi (University of Vaasa), and can be viewed below (from now until 11 September):

IAMCR panel on communication and peacebuilding

Thanks to Virpi for putting this panel together and please do email me if you want more details about our paper.

PSA MPG Seminar – in conversation with Emily Harmer

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, published in January 2021

I will be discussing Digital contention in a divided society – Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland next week (14 July, 4-5pm), as part of the Political Studies Association Media and Politics Group Seminar Series. I will be in conversation with Dr Emily Harmer (University of Liverpool), where we will no doubt discuss issues of mutual interest such as the growth of online incivility surrounding contemporary political movements (please do check out Emily’s research in this area). There will also be an opportunity for audience members to ask questions.

Many thanks to Emily and the PSA MPG organisers for the opportunity to participate in the series. Details on how to register for the event can be found here

The Conversation article on social media and NI protests published

Paul Faith/PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

The Conversation UK have published an essay of mine on how to follow Northern Irish protests on social media. Drawing on my research on the union flag protests, Ardoyne parade dispute and my recently published book, I argue that we should all be careful about what we share on sites like Facebook and Twitter during the marching season. Key tips such as ‘Check before you share’, ‘know who to follow’ and ‘play the ball, not the person’ are shared in the piece. I also recommend following journalists and factchecking organisations such as FactCheckNI in order to counter the spread of misinformation and disinformation.

Many thanks to Victoria Wood for helping with the pitch and Avery Anapol for providing feedback on the final version. The post can be viewed here

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

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