Social Media & Society conference #SMSociety


Dr Suay Ozkula and I are at the 10th annual Social Media & Society conference in Toronto this weekend. We are presenting three papers today (20th July) which address issues pertinent to the conference’s theme ‘Rethinking Privacy & Trust in the Social Media Age’.

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.

Democratic Audit piece on social media and paramilitary-style assaults published


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 post can be read here

WSIS Policy Briefs published

During the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of working with several members of our GLOSS WSIS 2019 team on their blogs and policy briefs. These are detailed below:

Policy Briefs:

Baskaradas, E., and Reilly, P. (2019) In search of a gender-balanced approach towards Smart Cities 3.0, Policy Brief, Global Policy, 25 April.

Baskett, V. and Reilly, P. (2019) Educational Digital Divides: addressing English  monolingualism within academic research, Policy Brief, Global Policy, 23 April.

Kisbee-Batho, R. and Reilly, P. (2019) Legal identity as a barrier to digital connectivity for refugees, Global Policy Opinion, 22 April.

Pinney, M. and Reilly, P. (2019) e-Agriculture: coordinating fields to save the environment, Policy Brief, Global Policy, 16 April.


Reilly, P. (2019) WSIS 2019 Panel ‘ICTs in the University Environment (Part 2), Global Policy Opinion, 25 April.

Reilly, P. (2019) WSIS 2019 Panel ‘ICTs in the University Environment (Part 1), Global Policy Opinion, 24 April.

Reilly, P. (2019) Antidote or Placebo? Digital literacy and the global fight against ‘fake news,‘ Global Policy Opinion, 17 April.

Kirby, D., Pinney, M., & Reilly, P. (2019) VeganCoin: new kid on the block(chain),Global Policy Opinion, 11 April.

Baskett, V., Heminway, R., & Reilly, P. (2019) Making academia an open book? Bibliodiversity and open publishing, Global Policy Opinion, 10 April.

WSIS 2019 panel ‘ICTs in the university environment’ (Part 2)


Two weeks ago Suay Ozkula and I led a delegation of eight students from the Global Leadership Initiative in the Social Sciences  at the University of Sheffield to the 2019 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, Switzerland. The team developed and ran the ‘ICTs in the university environment’ session during the event.

The slides for the presentation can be found here and a link to a video recording of the session can be viewed on the WSIS site.

In this second blog about the event, I will go through some of the key points from each presentation.

The fifth speaker during the event was Myra Mufti (MSc. International Social Change & Policy), who examined how ICTs could help make university admissions processes more efficient in Pakistan (from 24.40 on the webcast).

The Online College Admissions System (OCAS) introduced in the Punjab province has handled in excess of 317,000 applications in the past few years (a huge rise since 2016). The cost of these applications has been greatly reduced, with a time saving also evident due to the fact that visits are no longer required. Myra reflected on how OCAS could help bridge geographical, gender-based and financial divides within Pakistan.

The penultimate presentation from Romany Kisbee-Batho (Graduate Diploma in Law) focussed on her social media activism against immigration detention centres in counties such as Lincolnshire (beginning at 31.40 on webcast).

Romany showed several examples of the media coverage achieved by the Student Action for Refugees Society (STAR) at the University of Sheffield. Refugees detained in these centres are forbidden from using mobile phones, so a key focus of this student activism is to give them a voice through the use of social media to highlight their plight. STAR works with other NGOs/groups (e.g. Freed Voices) to empower people to speak out about how refugees are being treated within these institutions. However, this campaign is about evoking agency amongst refugees rather than just speaking for them. Their involvement in the anti-immigration detention movement is fundamental for ensuring its success. 

The final speaker was Rebecca Heminway (MA Digital Media & Society), who spoke about the role of ICTs in improving mental health amongst students at the University of Sheffield (beginning at 38.33 on the webcast).

Drawing on her work as a Mental Health Officer, Rebecca spoke about the rise in self-reported mental health problems by students in the UK over the past decade. At the same time, digital devices (e.g. smart phones, iPads, laptops) are ubiquitous amongst HE students, thus providing opportunities for the provision of additional support to those who need it. However, there are a number of barriers that must be overcome in order for this potential to be realised. These include the lack of data sharing between and within HEIs, and the absence of architectural approaches towards implementing interventions for student mental health within the sector.

The session was ably chaired by Hana Okasha, who facilitated a very interesting discussion about the future role of ICTs within Higher Education after the presentations had finished.


Well done to the team for all their hard work and delivering such an excellent session at WSIS 2019!

WSIS 2019 panel ‘ICTs in the university environment’ (Part 1)

Two weeks ago Suay Ozkula and I led a delegation of eight students from the Global Leadership Initiative in the Social Sciences  at the University of Sheffield to the 2019 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, Switzerland. The team developed and ran the ‘ICTs in the university environment’ session during the event.

The slides for the presentation can be found here and a link to a video recording of the session can be viewed on the WSIS site.

In this first of two blogs about the event, I will go through some of the key points from each presentation.

Our first speaker was Mike Pinney (M.Sc. Applied GIS, Urban Studies & Planning) who delivered a fascinating talk on his GIS project in the Gleadless area of Sheffield (starting at 00.43 in the webcast).

Mike showed us some great visualisations of his case study and argued that academics should develop assignments for their courses that had tangible impacts upon local communities. For example, students could use crime data to identify safe spaces, or remote sensing to help farmers analyse soil fertility within these areas.  He made a compelling case for more creative modes of assessment in Higher Education that went beyond essays and exams. In the Q&A he called for WSIS to focus more on the threat posted by climate change in future Summits.

The second speaker was Tor Baskett (MA Digital Media & Society), who discussed the educational divide between Global North and South (starting at 06:17 in the webcast). She presented a critique of the term digital divide and talked about how digital skills (or lack thereof) could have a significant impact on the career trajectory of citizens in the developing world.

Crucially, this divide is not just one between Global North and South. Tor highlighted recent reports suggesting that as many as one third of UK students were deficient in digital skills as evidence that it was ‘holding back’ people in developed countries too. She finished her presentation by calling for schools to invest more resources in equipping students to excel in the Information Society. One example given was the use of Artificial Intelligence within Romanian schools to increase digital literacy amongst pupils.

Danny Kirby was our third panelist, who spoke about his student project on how networked publics on Twitter responded to UK Prime Minster Teresa May’s Brexit plan (beginning at 12.17 in the webcast). He reflected on the limitations of using digital methods such as Sentiment Analysis to explore complex political phenomena on social media.

In his study of hashtags such as #brexitshambles, Danny found several limitations to using these methods, such as their inability to detect sarcasm.  He also found extensive evidence of bot activity in his research on how Brexit was being discursively framed on Twitter. He concluded by arguing in favour of greater ‘democratisation of social media research’ and warned that a new digital divide was emerging between those universities able to pay for social media data and those could not.

Our fourth speaker was Evelyn Baskaradas (MSc Data Science), who began by giving a personal account of her experiences using Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) at the University of Sheffield, both as an undergraduate and postgraduate student (beginning at 18.38 on the webcast).

While analytics from VLEs could help improve learning and teaching in Higher Education Institutions (eg. identifying students who might need specific help), students viewed this use of their personal data as a violation of their privacy. Within Evelyn’s cohort, there has been much discussion about the ethical challenges posed by these ‘data driven’ approaches towards e-supported learning, as well as their potential benefits for staff and students within these institutions. She recommended that there should be greater scrutiny of how these analytics were used to inform Higher Education policy and practice.

The other three presentations will be summarised in WSIS 2019 panel ‘ICTs in the university environment’ (Part 2).

GLOSS Trip to WSIS 2019, Geneva, Switzerland

Suay Ozkula and I have been awarded £8700 from the Global Leadership Initiative in the Social Sciences to lead a delegation of eight students from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield to the 2019 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, Switzerland (8-12 April).

I will be sharing regular updates from the Summit that week and the names of our delegation and a description of the event can be found here


In conversation with John Coster, Reportage Club, Leicester


Thanks to @333Dominika for the picture!

Last Friday (8th March), I had the pleasure of speaking to John Coster as part of the Reportage Club at the Documentary Media Centre pop-up in Leicester. We spoke about my work on social media and political polarisation in Northern Ireland, how loyalists and republicans use digital media to frame the Troubles, Brexit, and the future of the CAIN archive.

Many thanks to all who attended and for their interest in my work. Also, big shout out to Jennifer Jones, Richard Hall and Tina Barton for their live tweeting!

Talk at Reportage Club, Documentary Media Centre, Leicester

Delighted to be back in Leicester today for an ‘in conversation’ with John Coster as part of the Documentary Media Centre’s Reportage Club. We will discuss my ongoing work on digital media and political polarisation in Northern Ireland, in which I will draw on my work on information disorder and contentious parades and protests in the deeply divided society. Our session will kick off at 6.30pm in the DMM pop-up in Highcross (the unit opposite Costa Coffee on Shires Lane).

Thanks to John for the invite and also for sharing this reminder of my last appearance at the DMC- over 4 years ago!



Social Media and Politics Podcast on Protests and Demonstrations in Northern Ireland

Delighted to have spoken to Michael Bossetta (University of Copenhagen) for the latest Social Media and Politics Podcast 

In a wide-ranging discussion, we discussed my ongoing work on social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland, case studies such as the union flag protests and the Ardoyne parade dispute and Brexit. Many thanks to Michael for inviting me on and for his insightful questions. If you haven’t checked it out already, I would thoroughly recommend the Podcast series for anyone interested in Digital Politics.

The podcast on Protests and Demonstrations in Northern Ireland can be found here




New article published in Journalism

  • Delighted to have an article co-authored with Bournemouth University colleagues Anastasia Veneti and Darren Lilleker published in Journalism yesterday.
  • The article entitled ‘Photographing the Battlefield’: the role of ideology in photojournalist practices during the anti-austerity protests in Greece’ can be accessed here