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:
Suay Ozkula, Jenny Hayes and I have a paper at the AoIR Life 2020 conference this month. Suay has created a short video summarising the paper, which can be found on the AoIR 2020 playlist.
The title and abstract can be found below:
Ozkula, S., Reilly, P.J. and Hayes, J. (2020) Easy Data, usual suspects, same old places? A systematic review of methodological approaches in digital activism research, 1995-2019, Selected Papers in Internet Research 2020. Research from the Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers.
Burgess and Bruns (2015) have linked the computational turn in social media research to a rise in studies that focus exclusively on ‘easy’ data, such as the ‘low hanging fruit’ provided by Twitter hashtags. This paper set out to explore whether this preponderance of easy data and studies focused on the 2011-12 protests is evident in research between 1995 and 2019 through a systematic review of digital activism literature (N = 1444). A particular focus of the review was the extent to which digital activism research revolved around the use of computational digital methods, case studies based in Europe and North America and data gathered from single online platforms (e.g. Twitter). The review showed that most of these studies focused on social movements, campaigns, activists, and parties based in the United Kingdom and United States, and were conducted by researchers based in universities in these countries. In contrast, there were relatively few articles addressing activism, institutions and platforms in non-Western /Global South contexts with the exception of the Arab Spring in 2011. In terms of methodological approaches, traditional research methods and big data digital methods studies were prevalent. In response to the easy data hypothesis, the study found that Twitter was the most researched platform in the corpus, but that digital methods were not as commonly deployed in these articles as traditional methods. Thus, the paper concludes argues in favor of greater diversity in digital activism research in terms of its methods, participants, and countries of origin.