I recently co-authored a report with Belfast-based independent researcher Dr Orna Young, which investigated the extent to which the social media activity surrounding contentious parades and protests has affected community relations in Northern Ireland.
This report was launched this morning at the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council’s Live Issues Conference in Belfast.
This small research project funded by the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council examined how Loyalist and Republican communities use sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in relation to public demonstrations.
I was responsible for the collection and analysis of Twitter data collected during July 2014.
Key findings from this study included:
1) Twitter provided users with an array of information sources courtesy of the citizen and professional journalists who were tweeting their perspectives on events as they unfolded. The latter were more influential in these information flows, primarily due to the high number of retweets for content produced by journalists from BBC NI and UTV;
2) Citizens were quick to check the veracity of the reports emerging from the scene. There were also several examples of citizens using the site to refute rumours and expose those responsible for photoshopping images, as was seen with the Randalstown bonfire and a picture of a protester in Ardoyne;
3) The relatively short lifespan of these rumours, not to mention the lack of media coverage they received, illustrated how effectively tweeters corrected misinformation during this period;
4) The users that contributed to the Twelfth hashtags tended to be full of praise for the peaceful and non-violent conduct of the Orange Order. In particular, there was much support for its ‘graduated response’ to the Parade Commission’s decision to ban the return leg of the Ligoniel Orange lodges from passing by the Ardoyne shops.
Commenting on the report, Paul Jordan, CRC’s Director of Funding and Development, said:
“There has been anecdotal feedback from many of the groups that we support highlighting the role that social media plays in community disputes and interface conflicts. We hope that this research, which was supported through CRC’s Research Awards Scheme, will lead to the provision of practical advice on how community organisations can counteract negative messages and rumour as well as creating a positive on-line presence that encourages good relations between differing communities.”
The report will be published on the NI CRC website in due course and I will share the link when it becomes available.
The University press release for the report can be accessed here