Article on Ending the Harm campaign published in European Journal of Communication

Ending the Harm campaign advert

I have a new journal article out this month in the European Journal of Communication. Entitled ‘Can social media help end the harm? Public information campaigns, online platforms, and paramilitary-style attacks in a deeply divided society’, the paper explores how social media was used to promote the Ending the Harm campaign in Northern Ireland. This built on research conducted with Dr. Faith Gordon (ANU) in 2019.

The abstract can be read below:

Online platforms can help public information campaigns reach target audiences who are unlikely to engage with content distributed via traditional media. This paper adds to this emergent literature, as the first study of the Ending the Harm campaign, which is designed to change public discourse about paramilitary-style attacks in Northern Ireland. Campaign effects were explored through interviews (N = 7) conducted with key stakeholders, as well as the results of a quantitative survey of residents (N = 805) in areas most affected by these attacks. Results indicate that exposure to the ETH advertisements correlated with a belief that PSAs were unjustified. Platforms like Snapchat helped the campaign reach younger demographics (16–34 years old). Nevertheless, it was unclear whether self-reported changes in attitude toward PSAs would lead to sustained behavioral changes.

The paper is published Open Access and can be read and downloaded (for free) here

Many thanks to EJC, the anonymous reviewers, the interviewees, Damian Boylan (NI Executive Programme for Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality & Organised Crime), and Faith for their input. I will hopefully have an update on this work later in the summer.

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.

BBC Radio WM interview on social media and’fake news’ during Ukrainian conflict   

Footage from a 2020 TV series was shared to suggest the Ukraine war was a hoax

Yesterday I was interviewed by Elise Evans on BBC Radio WM Breakfast about social media and ‘fake news’ during the Ukrainian conflict. This was in response to a report that footage from a disaster movie filmed in Birmingham had been used on social media to suggest the war was a hoax.

We discussed what online platforms are doing to deal with ‘fake news’ and how we can identify false images and videos circulating online.

Thanks to Elise, Louise, Megan and the BBC Radio WM team for the interview.

It can be accessed here

Expert testimony at Council of Europe Parliamentary Committee hearing on the control of online communication 

Technology Digital Tablet Modern Internet Online

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 was titled “the control of online communication: a threat to media pluralism, freedom of information and human dignity”

The agenda can be found here

In my contribution to the hearing, I drew on my research on the role of online platforms in amplifying hate speech.  My recommendations included a call for policymakers to lobby online platforms to issue warning messages to those using hate speech on their sites, a recognition that content removal might displace the problem to less popular platforms, and for counter-speech interventions to be promoted as a more effective way to address these behaviours.

Many thanks to Eugen Cibotaru for the invitation and his help with the logistics.

Digital Activism article now available open access until April 2022

Pleased to report that our article in Information, Communication & Society will be available open access until 31 March 2022. Entitled ‘Easy data, same old platforms? A systematic review of digital activism methodologies’, this paper draws on the results of a review of 315 articles published between 1994 and 2018.

The abstract can be read below:

Burgess and Bruns (2015) have linked the computational turn in social media research to an increase in the number of studies focussing exclusively on ‘easy data’, such as the ‘low hanging fruit’ provided by Twitter hashtags. This paper explores whether there is a preponderance of such easy data in digital activism research through a systematic review of relevant journal articles published between 2011 and 2018 (N = 315). Specifically, it examines whether computational digital methods have become increasingly prominent in digital activism research during this period. A key focus of the paper is the extent to which digital activism research focused on easily accessible Twitter data, and whether these were obtained via standard API services. Results indicate that (1) traditional research methodologies were more commonly deployed in these articles than digital methods, but (2) Twitter was the most researched platform in the corpus, and (3) single-platform hashtag studies were an archetype of digital activism research alongside single-platform Facebook studies and holistic approaches (hybrid, multi-method & multi-sited, e.g., ethnography). The paper concludes by advocating for greater diversity in terms of the methodological approaches adopted in digital activism research.

Many thanks to the editors, reviewers, and the iCS team for their help in getting this out. And of course to Suay and Jenny, for their collaboration on this. Hopefully the first of many!

The article can be accessed here

Interview to mark one year since publication of Digital Contention

This week marks one year since the publication of my second book Digital Contention in a Divided Society (Manchester University Press). I sat down (virtually) with John Coster, Director of the Documentary Media Centre, to reflect on this. Our conversation touched on a wide variety of topics including the April 2011 ‘Brexit riots‘, the abuse directed at DUP MLA Diane Dodds on Twitter, and how social media bring us together (and tear us apart).

Big thanks to John for the chat. We hope to do this on a regular basis moving forward.

Interviewed by John Coster to mark one year since Digital Contention published

You can still view the video of the book launch below:

New article on digital activism published in Information, Communication & Society

New article with Suay Özkula and Jenny Hayes published in iCS

Suay Özkula, Jenny Hayes and I have an article out today in Information, Communication & Society. Entitled ‘Easy data, same old platforms? A systematic review of digital activism methodologies’, this paper draws on the results of a review of 315 articles published between 1994 and 2018.

The abstract can be read below:

Burgess and Bruns (2015) have linked the computational turn in social media research to an increase in the number of studies focussing exclusively on ‘easy data’, such as the ‘low hanging fruit’ provided by Twitter hashtags. This paper explores whether there is a preponderance of such easy data in digital activism research through a systematic review of relevant journal articles published between 2011 and 2018 (N = 315). Specifically, it examines whether computational digital methods have become increasingly prominent in digital activism research during this period. A key focus of the paper is the extent to which digital activism research focused on easily accessible Twitter data, and whether these were obtained via standard API services. Results indicate that (1) traditional research methodologies were more commonly deployed in these articles than digital methods, but (2) Twitter was the most researched platform in the corpus, and (3) single-platform hashtag studies were an archetype of digital activism research alongside single-platform Facebook studies and holistic approaches (hybrid, multi-method & multi-sited, e.g., ethnography). The paper concludes by advocating for greater diversity in terms of the methodological approaches adopted in digital activism research.

Many thanks to the editors, reviewers, and the iCS team for their help in getting this out. And of course to Suay and Jenny, for their collaboration on this. Hopefully the first of many!

There are 50 free downloads of the article, which can be accessed here

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: