Yesterday Cormac Lawler I took part in a podcast hosted by Rob Watson focussing on wellbeing and media during the COVID-19 lockdown. We discussed a wide variety of issues including what type of future awaits local journalism as we come out of the pandemic. Rob runs the excellent Media for Positive Social Change , which has some great podcasts, blogs and other resources about community media.
Many thanks to Rob for the invitation, and to him and Cormac for a really enjoyable chat!
The first paper, entitled ‘Whose data is it anyway? Doing ethical social media research in the age of datafication ‘, examines the responsibilities of researchers to social media users who themselves are the subject of mass surveillance conducted by online platforms. We draw on the key guidelines for internet research since 2002 in order to critique the two most commonly proposed solutions to these issues, namely informed consent and de-identification. Data from Eurobarometer and the Pew Internet and American Life project is used to examine the growth in digital resignation amongst users, as well as their expectations in relation to academic use of their data. We conclude with a number of propositions for social media researchers, which include the principle that all research of online platforms be considered human participant research and that all ethical stances be produced on a case-by-case basis. We argue that researchers have an obligation to turn these data subjects into ‘knowing publics’ by making their methods for collecting and analysing data more transparency. They should also engage unaware participants, especially those from whom consent has not been obtained, throughout each stage of the project lifecycle.
The second paper is called ‘Strategic techniques for qualitative Sampling online- a review of social media monitoring tools’. It examines whether tools such as Google Trends and Hashtagify can be used to identify qualitative case studies that are meaningful and broadly representative of broader social phenomena. We discuss relevant issues such as digital bias in our review of how digital methods can be deployed in support of qualitative research. The paper argues that these tools have great potential in finding suitable entry points for researchers exploring societal issues on platforms such as Twitter. They can help identify key influencers and metadata that builds a more nuanced picture of how information flows on social media. However, the black box nature of these tools needs to be acknowledged as a limitation of digital methods. We propose that researchers should triangulate these results by using more than one monitoring tool in their construction of social media data samples.
We are also delivering a poster entitled ‘Easy data, usual suspects, same old places? A systematic review of digital activism research, 1995-2019′. This summarises our ongoing work examining the methods and case studies used in this emergent field. We find evidence to suggest that Twitter was by far the most researched platform during this period, with the Global South neglected in this work. We also explore the researchers and journals that are disproportionately represented in this body of research.
Dr Faith Gordon (Monash University) and I have published an essay on the role of social media in combatting paramilitary-style assaults in Northern Ireland. In the piece, we draw on the work of the Stop Attacks Forum and Ending the Harm to explore how social media can raise awareness of these incidents. This is part of an ongoing project that Faith and I are working on – more details to come soon!
The iconic nature of this image was cemented when eighties rock band Killing Joke repurposed it for the cover of their eponymous debut album, released in August 1980. Nevertheless, McCullin rejected the suggestion that he was a ‘war photographer’ and later expressed profound regret that these conflict images had so little impact on the longevity of the Troubles. His frustration over the efficacy of this ‘witnessing’ was reflected in the title of his 1973 book: Is anybody taking any notice?
Fast forward four decades and it would appear at least some people are interested in the work of McCullin and his cohort of ‘combat’ photographers during the early days of the Troubles. During my conversation with John Coster as part of the 24 Hour Conflict Reportage Newsroom, we discussed the preliminary results of a new study of mine exploring 100 images tagged #thetroubles on Instagram. I found that many of these had been uploaded to the photosharing site to commemorate the anniversary of key events such as the Battle of the Bogside (August 1969), the Brighton hotel bombing (October 1984), and the assassination of Lord Mountbatten (August 1979). In addition to showing the aftermath of high-profile bomb attacks, many images showed the violent clashes between nationalist youths and members of the security forces that have become so deeply ingrained in collective memories of the Troubles.
What was particularly fascinating was the juxtaposition of ordinary life with the sectarian violence that had erupted in the divided society in the late 1960s. For example, an image originally taken by photojournalist Clive Limpkin showed a young woman standing in the foreground of a rubble-strewn street. It had a certain mutability given that there were no visual clues showing its shooting location, with the exception of the caption which confirmed it had been taken during the Battle of the Bogside.
There were also images showing children playing and even eating ice cream in close proximity to armed British soldiers. The dearth of contextual information meant that they could only be identified as being from Catholic or Protestant working-class neighbourhoods based on the paramilitaries that featured on murals or graffiti captured in the background of these images.
Elsewhere, British army veterans shared photographs of themselves and their colleagues during their tours of Northern Ireland between the early seventies and the mid-nineties. In one case, the caption noted that one of the soldiers that featured in the photograph had been killed by a Provisional IRA sniper in South Armagh a few weeks after it had been taken.
Photographs depicting British army personnel on patrol tended to attract the most antagonistic comments from pro-republican commenters. Photographs posted by British Army veterans were frequently met with antagonistic comments such as ‘Go Home’ and “we’ll fight you for 800 more years”. Their hostile interactions with British military enthusiasts in the comments sections of these images invariably degenerated into arguments over the legitimacy of the British presence in Ireland.
The haunting ‘war photography’ of McCullin and his colleagues appear to have found a new audience on Instagram. Irrespective of whether they are collected or collective memories, it is clear that these photographs do not function as a focal point around which shared narratives on the cause of the conflict can be fostered. Indeed, social media is being used to circulate images that illustrate the persistence of partisan, antagonistic forms of public memory in Northern Ireland, two decades on from the Belfast Agreement.
This evening I will be doing an ‘in conversation’ with John Coster (Documentary Media Centre) as part of the 24 hour Conflict Reportage Newsroom. We will be discussing my new project on Instagram images of the Northern Irish Troubles, as well as a general chat about media coverage of the conflict. John has put together an excellent set of online (free) resources for those wanting to learn more about the conflict here.
I have had another op-ed published by Democratic Audit UK on the coronavirus crisis. I discuss the early findings from research conducted by Pew Research Center and Ofcom investigating how people respond to misinformation and disinformation about the virus shared on social media. Despite some signs people are factchecking using official sources, I argue that we must not be complacent in our efforts to counter false information about the pandemic. Thanks to Alice Park for her help publishing this piece. It can be accessed here
I have had an op-ed in the Sheffield Telegraph today. I argue that local journalism is playing a key role in providing support for communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to Victoria Wood and the staff at the Telegraph for the opportunity. The piece can be found here
I have an op-ed in View Digital today in which I argue that we all need to support local journalism, both during the coronavirus crisis and beyond. Thanks to Brian and Una for the opportunity. The piece can be read here
I have written a post for Democratic Audit on the spread of coronavirus ‘fake news’ over the past few months. I discuss how false stories about COVID-19 ‘cures’ can have deadly consequences, as seen in Iran where hundreds of people died after drinking methanol in the mistaken belief it would protect them from the virus. While conspiracy theories about the virus being a ‘biological weapon’ have emerged online, their impact should not be exaggerated. Instead, we should focus on the misinformation spread by political leaders such as Donald Trump, which is more likely to have an impact on the behaviour of citizens.
Thanks to Alice Park and the fantastic DA team for their help in publishing this. The post can be found here
Yesterday I was interviewed by Toby Foster on BBC Radio Sheffield about the ‘fake news’ circulating online about coronavirus. We spoke about some of the ways people can identify false information on social media and the role of politicians in spreading misinformation about the virus. Thanks to Toby, Kat, Katie from BBC Radio Sheffield and Victoria Wood for making it happen.
You can listen back to the interview here (beginning at 3:10:38)
I was interviewed a few weeks ago by Stephanie Lam from Forge Press about the recent UK Government Online Harms White Paper, which proposed that OfCom be given powers to fine social media companies who fail to remove harmful content from their platforms. Thanks to Stephanie for the interview and for writing the piece. It can be accessed here
I have a new article in the journal First Monday out today. Entitled ‘PSNIRA vs. peaceful protesters? YouTube, ‘sousveillance’ and the policing of the union flag protests,’ it explores how Youtubers responded to footage of alleged police brutality during the union flag protests in Northern Ireland between December 2012 and March 2013.
Drawing on a qualitative analysis of 1,586 comments posted under 36 ‘sousveillance’ videos, I argue that responses to these videos were shaped by competing narratives on the legitimacy of police actions during the flag protests. This footage focussed attention on the anti-social behaviour of the protesters rather than the alleged police brutality referred to in the video descriptions. The paper concludes by considering the problematic nature of exploring imagined sousveillance, as was the case here, through the collection and analysis of ‘easy data’ scraped from online platforms such as YouTube. The paper can be accessed here