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:

Invited book talk at Arkin University of Creative Arts and Design

Book talk, Arkin University, 2 November 2021

This afternoon I will be delivering a Webinar at Arkın University of Creative Arts and Design. Hosted by Dr. Hakan Karashan, I will be discussing some of the key findings from my recently published book Digital Contention in a Divided Society.

The Webinar will be streamed live on the ARUCAD Facebook and YouTube channels from 12pm UK time (2pm Cyprus time).

Many thanks to Hakan for the invitation and I look forward to our conversation on digital citizenship, activism and politics later.

Digital Contention review in Journal of Communication

Digital Contention in a Divided Society, out now with Manchester University Press

The second review of Digital Contention in a Divided Society has been published in Journal of Communication (Impact Factor 7.270, rated 6 out of 94 in Communication).

Some excerpts are below:

“Overall this study represents a significant contribution to the discussion about the evolving relationship between social media, contentious politics, and social media movements in post-conflict societies. It is a solid contribution to test the polysemic nature of Twitter hashtags and their capacity to mobilize affective publics in contested and polarized social media environments”

“Reilly’s book is invaluable when it mentions the unprecedented opportunities for citizens to engage in areas such as sousveillance in the face of reporting perceived police violence. Reilly’s work joins the ranks of upcoming scholarly work relevant in the field such as Denisova (2019), Ozduzen (2020), and El Issawi (2021). It is a brilliant example of adding to the author’s previous work (2010) building upon field research and data mining techniques and able to define its own strengths and limitations of the approach”.

“It is a perfect academic study for identifying public engagement in the times of the dysfunctional politics searching for reconciliation through new conceptual tools like silly citizenship in post-Brexit Irish border that will remain disputed in the years to come”.

I am very grateful to Murat Akser (Ulster University) for this very generous review. It can be read below;

Digital Contention in a Divided Society is out now and can be purchased in eBook and hardback formats here

Interview about Facebook and polarisation on YLE News (Finland)

Interviewed by Egan Richardson, YLE News (Finland) about Facebook and polarisation

This week I was interviewed by Egan Richardson for the All Points North podcast on YLE News (Finland). In light of the decision by YLE News to stop comments on its Facebook posts, we discussed the role of social media platforms in amplifying polarisation and the efficacy of their responses to problems such as hate speech and misinformation. I argued that online platforms often engage in PR exercises to deal with issues such as hate speech and misinformation. Self-regulation is an insufficient policy response to online harms.

A blogpost summarising the interview can be read here and the audio can be accessed here (the segment begins around 16:30).

Many thanks to Egan for the invitation and the interesting chat- great to see a former #digiadvocate doing so well in their career!

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: