Decentered Media Podcast on Wellbeing Media in Lockdown

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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 podcast can be access here

Northern Irish Troubles on Instagram

In an interview last year, Don McCullin commented that “If I can haunt people with my pictures I have done my job”. Working in conflict zones throughout the 1960s, the legendary British war photographer focussed attention on previously under-represented issues such as the PTSD experienced by US marines during the Vietnam War. He was one of several photojournalists credited with shaping the ‘visual economy’ of the Northern Irish Troubles in the early seventies. In a Sunday Times photo-story entitled ‘War on the Home Front’, published in December 1971, he captured a series of images illustrating the brutal nature of the clashes between British soldiers and civilians in Derry/Londonderry. Perhaps one of his most iconic images was a photograph of a group of young boys jumping over a graffiti-covered wall after British soldiers had fired CS gas at them, which was compared to an image of a battlefield trench from the First World War.

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 post was originally published by the Documentary Media Centre and is reproduced here with their permission.

Discussing #TheTroubles on Instagram during 24 hour Conflict Reportage Newsroom

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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. 

Join us on Facebook Live after 7pm and please do participate in the conversation on Twitter using #ConflictReportage24

Update: The video of our discussion can be viewed here

Essay in Democratic Audit on how people respond to coronavirus ‘fake news’

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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

Op-ed on local journalism in Sheffield Telegraph

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

Democratic Audit post on coronavirus ‘fake news’

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

Interview on BBC Radio Sheffield about ‘fake news’ and social media

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)

Quoted in Forge Press article on social media censorship and online harms

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

 

New article published on social media and sousveillance

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