Participant in BBC Radio Ulster Talkback debate on the future of Twitter

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

Yesterday I participated in a segment on BBC Radio Ulster Talkback about the future of Twitter under Elon Musk. Presented by William Crawley, I joined Brenda Gough and Andrew Pierce to discuss the future of microblogging site in the wake of users leaving for sites like Mastodon. We also how the moderation rules on non-profit sites compare to Twitter.

You can listen to the segment here (it begins at 38:29 and finishes at 56:51).

Many thanks to William, Claire and the Talkback team for the invitation to participate.

Interviewed on BBC Three Counties Radio about Elon Musk takeover of Twitter

Elon Musk floated the idea to charge governments and companies on the microblogging site

Yesterday I was interviewed by Roberto Perrone on BBC Three Counties Radio about Elon Musk’s proposal to charge commercial companies and governments to use the platform. I raised some questions about the desirability and feasibility of Musk’s plan to make algorithms open source, authenticate humans and remove bots, and whether users might leave the site if these charges are introduced.

Thanks to Rob, Usman, and the BBC Three Counties Radio team for the interview. 

It can be accessed here

New article on Mary Beard Twitterstorm published in Information, Communication & Society

New article published in Information, Communication & Society this month

Ceri Ashwell and I have an article out this week in Information, Communication & Society. Entitled ‘Exploring Discourses of Whiteness in the Mary Beard Oxfam-Haiti Twitterstorm’, this paper draws on the results of a content analysis of tweets discussing the Twitterstorm.

The abstract can be read below:

Social media may have amplified the Black Lives Matter movement, but companies like Facebook are often accused of not doing enough to address online hate speech. These platforms nevertheless have the potential to facilitate informal learning about the color blind racism through which whites rationalize the inequalities and injustices experienced by People of Color (PoC). This paper adds to the emergent literature in this area by exploring a high-profile Twitterstorm in February 2018 following a tweet from Cambridge University Professor Mary Beard about the sexual misconduct of Oxfam aid workers in Haiti. Academics like Dr Priya Gopal faced much criticism for suggesting the tweet was evidence of the white fragility and privilege to which they were frequently subjected. A qualitative content analysis of 1718 unique tweets containing ‘Mary Beard’, posted between 16 and 20 February 2018, was conducted to assess whether there was much evidence of agonistic debate between critics and supporters of Beard about whiteness. Results indicate that there were twice as many tweets criticising Beard for her performative white privilege and frailty than those defending her. While the framing of the Twitterstorm was generally agonistic, there was little evidence of informal learning, with PoC conspicuously under-represented. Indeed, the burden of talking about racism and whiteness fell on the few PoC in the corpus, in much the same way as the ‘pre-social media’ era.

50 free copies of the article are available here and a preprint can be downloaded here.

Many thanks to the editors and reviewers for their help in getting this out. And big congratulations to Ceri for her first publication!

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

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

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

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

New article on #PorteOuverte published in Social Media + Society

#PorteOuverte Tweet from journalist Sylvain Lapoix, 13 November 2015

Dr. Stefania Vicari and I have a new article out in Social Media + Society today. Entitled Organisational hashtags during times of crisis: Analysing the broadcasting and gatekeeping dynamics of #PorteOuverte during the November 2015 Paris Terror Attacks, the paper presents one of the first empirical studies of the ‘open door’ hashtag. Funded as part of the EU Horizon 2020 project IMPROVER, this social network analysis explores how these dynamics evolved as the attacks unfolded on 13 November 2015.

The abstract is below:

Twitter hashtags allow citizens to share vital information and make sense of acute crisis events such as terrorist attacks. They also enable those watching from afar to express their sympathy and solidarity with the victims. Perhaps the most well-known of these has been #PorteOuverte (translated into English as ‘Open Door’), first used during the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris before re-emerging during subsequent atrocities in Brussels (March 2016) and Nice (July 2016). The hashtag was originally created by journalist Sylvain LaPoix in order to connect those in Paris looking for somewhere to stay with those able to offer them refuge, before reaching an international audience courtesy of its amplication by public figures and citizens based overseas. This paper adds to this emergent literature by analysing the networked gatekeeping dynamics of #PorteOuverte during the Paris terror attacks. It does so by reviewing the literature on Twitter hashtags and acute crisis events, exploring how Twitter was used during the Paris terror attacks, and presenting the results of a Social Network Analysis (SNA) of 399,256 #PorteOuverte tweets posted as the attacks unfolded on 13 November 2015. Results indicate that professional journalists were key broadcasters during four identified peaks within #PorteOuverte, helping to promote the informational hashtag and connect those directly affected. However, citizens and bloggers played an increasingly important gatekeeping function in the aftermath of events such as the Bataclan siege in Paris. 

Thanks to the two reviewers for their thoughtful feedback, as well as Prof. Zizi Papacharissi and the SM+ S team for helping with the publication. The paper is available to read open access here

Two new articles in Journal of Social Media for Learning

Journal of Social Media for Learning launched in December 2020

I have two articles in the inaugural volume of the Journal of Social Media for Learning, which has been published this month.

Curation, connections and creativity: reflections on using Twitter to teach digital activism builds on my presentation at last year’s Social Media for Learning in Higher Education conference. In this paper I draw on my experience of using Twitter over the past decade, reflecting on the how student watching of hashtags may help support their learning. The paper can be accessed here and the slides from my presentation are below.

Presentation from 2019 Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference

The second article is a collaboration with my fantastic PhD researcher Paul Fenn. Problematising the use of Snapchat in Higher Education Teaching and Learning reviews the literature on how IM apps have been used to support university teaching to date. We reflect on issues relating to privacy, surveillance and the responsibility of educators to make students aware of how platforms monetise user data. This paper can be accessed here

Many thanks to Dawne Irving-Bell and the editorial team for their help in the publication process and for bringing together a fantastic first volume of the journal.

BBC media appearances

Yesterday I made two appearances on the BBC talking about Twitter’s decision to classify two tweets by Donald Trump as unsubstantiated. First, I spoke to Joanna Gosling on the BBC News Channel about the implications of this action for the forthcoming US Presidential Election. The interview can be watched below.

I then spoke to Dean McLaughlin on BBC Radio Foyle‘s News at One show about whether this would this would lead to politicians being more careful about what they posted online. This interview can be found here

IMG_0679

Thanks to Dean, Joanna and their respective teams for the opportunity.