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.

Invited seminar at University of Westminster, 4 March

Peace on Facebook, University of Westminster seminar, 4 March 2021 (17:00-19:00)

I am giving an invited seminar at the Communication and Media Research Institute at the University of Westminster tomorrow. 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.

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, out now.

I will draw on research conducted for my new book Digital Contention in a Divided Society.

I have been given a discount code which I can share, so please email me (p.j.reilly@sheffield.ac.uk) or DM me on Twitter (@PaulJReilly) if you want to purchase a copy. 

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

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

MeCCSA 2020 presentation

I attended the annual MeCCSA conference  at the University of Brighton last week, which brought together a very diverse group of Media, Communication and Cultural Studies researchers to discuss its core theme ‘Media Interactions and Environments.’

My paper, ‘Peace on Facebook? Problematising social media as spaces for intergroup contact in divided societies’, critically evaluated the cyber optimist notion that ICTs might facilitate more associative models of peacebuilding in contemporary societies. Using examples such as Peace on Facebook, I argued that the corporate logic of social media has significant implications for efforts to foster positive intergroup contact in deeply-divided societies. Online platforms are not benign actors and they turbocharge mis-and disinformation that contributes to sectarian violence in countries such as India and Northern Ireland.  The slides can be found below: