This week I will be at the International Studies Association Annual Convention in Baltimore. The theme this year is ‘Understanding Change in World Politics’ and our panel, entitled ‘Social media and activism: power and resistance in the 21st century’ will be on Thursday 23rd February (8.15-10.00). The abstracts for these papers can be found below:
Twitter, affective publics and public demonstrations in divided societies: The 2014 and 2015 Ardoyne parade disputes in Northern Ireland.
Paul Reilly, University of Sheffield
Can social media help facilitate peacebuilding in divided societies such as Northern Ireland? Are they safe spaces in which antagonistic groups are able to reconcile their differences and agree to work together for mutual benefit? This paper adds to this debate by examining how citizens used Twitter in response to the contentious Orange Order parade in the Ardoyne district of North Belfast. Twitter provided a platform for ‘affective publics’ who expressed a myriad of sentiments towards the Orange Order, in addition to the residents who opposed the loyalist parade passing the predominantly nationalist area. This study focused on the extent to which these tweeters appeared to use the site to prevent a recurrence of the sectarian violence that followed the parade in previous years. A critical thematic analysis of 7388 #Ardoyne tweets, collected in July 2014 and July 2015, was conducted in order to investigate these issues. Results indicate that Twitter’s greatest contribution to peacebuilding may lie in its empowerment of citizens to correct rumours and disinformation that have the potential to generate sectarian violence. However, the site does not appear to function as a shared space in which cross-community consensus on contentious issues such as Ardoyne parade can be fostered.
Telling it like it is: A comparative perspective on the use of personal stories in online grassroots advocacy
Filippo Trevisan – American University
Paul Reilly – University of Sheffield
Mariana Leyton Escobar – American University
Storytelling transcends cultures. It can speak to global audiences, change public attitudes, serve as policy evidence, and challenge dominant media narratives on sensitive social issues. Thus, advocacy organizations and activist networks increasingly use social media to crowd-source, co-create, and distribute personal stories, which originate in the private sphere and become public narratives online. Yet, story-based advocacy is also controversial as sharing the intimate accounts of groups that have been discriminated against may foster further stigmatization. Communication scholars have yet to discuss the implications of this global advocacy trend for digital citizenship. Whose voices do we really hear in online stories? How are they collected, edited, and re-mediated? Ultimately, who is empowered by this approach? To address these questions, this paper compares the use of personal stories in online disability rights campaigns in the UK and the United States. By combining the analysis of blog posts and YouTube videos featuring stories of disability with interviews with leading advocates in both countries, different digital storytelling practices are revealed. In particular, a trade-off between maintaining spontaneity and editing personal accounts to achieve policy effectiveness is identified and discussed in the context of different political cultures, media systems, ethical principles, and policy-making traditions.