I have published a piece for Democratic Audit UK on the role of social media in the Kingsmill bread video row, which culminated in the resignation of Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff last week. I argue that this incident illustrates how hybrid media logics operate in Northern Ireland, with professional journalists increasingly using social media such as Twitter not only to source stories, but also to hold politicians to account for what they post online. The post can be found here
This week I will be presenting two papers at the MeCCSA conference , which will be held at London South Bank University (10-12 January). The first one builds on my research on social media and contentious politics in Northern Ireland, with the second based on data collected as part of the Horizon 2020 project IMPROVER.
The programme for the conference can be found here and the abstracts of my two talks can be found below:
1)Reilly, P. Loyalists against Democracy: Assessing the role of social media parody accounts in contentious Northern Irish politics
Parody accounts on social media have emerged as one of the key focal points for the debate of contentious political issues in Northern Ireland over the past five years. Some commentators have praised these accounts for providing a voice for the ‘silent majority,’ while others have condemned what they view as their crude stereotyping of working-class loyalist communities. Yet, there remains little empirical research exploring the contribution of these accounts to political discourses. This paper sets out to address this issue by exploring the social media presence of the most prominent parody group, Loyalists Against Democracy (or LADFLEG). A thematic analysis of posts taken from its Facebook (N=35,721) and Twitter accounts (N=3,587) was conducted between December 2012 and October 2013. This covered contentious episodes such as the protests and rioting prompted by the decision to alter the protocol on the flying of the union flag over Belfast City Hall and the campaign to sack Health Minister Edwin Poots due to his refusal to overturn the ban on blood donation from gay and bisexual men. Results suggest LADFLEG used social media for a variety of purposes, ranging from the shaming of loyalists for posting offensive hate speech online to holding elected representatives to account. By October 2013 the group was playing a prominent role in factchecking politicians such as Poots and increasing the response rate for the petition to remove him from office. In this respect, LADFLEG had evolved from being an observer of contentious politics into a more active participant.
2)Reilly, P., Serafinelli, E., Petersen, L., Fallou, L. & Havarneanu, G. Terrorism, Twitter and Vernacular Creativity: #PorteOuverte and the November 2015 Paris Terror Attacks
Twitter has emerged as a key platform for citizens during terrorist attacks, not only as a
source of information but also as an outlet for providing support for victims. Citizen
responses to such incidents on the microblogging site often demonstrate what Burgess
(2008) refers to as ‘vernacular creativity’, with hashtags and memes used to express
solidarity with those directly affected. This paper explores one such incident, namely the
terror attacks by ISIS militants in Paris on 13 November 2015, which resulted in 130 fatalities and left several hundred wounded. The saturation of mobile phone networks left many citizens stranded and unable to tell their families and loved ones that they were safe. It was in this context that journalists such as Sylvain Lapoix urged citizens to use the hashtag#PorteOuverte if they were looking for shelter or able to offer refuge to others. This study explores the efficacy of this initiative by presenting a review of the literature on social media and disaster response, an overview of the role of Twitter during the Paris attacks, and a thematic analysis of eight interviews conducted with key stakeholders who were actively involved in the response to the atrocities. Results indicate that professional journalists played a key role in raising public awareness of #PorteOuverte and connecting people affected by the terror attacks. While the site may encourage vernacular creativity amongst citizens, the participation of public figures in these campaigns appears essential if they are to bring support to those directly affected by crises.
I have written an article for the LSE British Politics and Policy blog, which examines how social media was used to share footage of alleged Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) brutality against loyalists in Northern Ireland. This post highlights some of the findings from my British Academy funded project ‘YouTube, sousveillance and the policing of union flag protests in Northern Ireland, British Academy’ (Grant reference: SG132416). It can be accessed here
This afternoon (3rd June) I will be an invited participant in a symposium entitled Social Media and Politics, to be held at Ulster University.
My slides can be found here and the abstract for my paper is below:
YouTube, sousveillance and the policing of the 2013 union flag protests in Northern Ireland
On December 3 2012, Belfast City Council voted to fly the union flag above City Hall on a number of designated days each year. In nearby East Belfast, the moderate pro-union Alliance Party was the subject of a controversial leafleting campaign, which suggested that they were responsible for this change to the previous policy of flying the flag 365 days a year and urged Loyalists to protest against the decision. The perception that the Alliance Party had sided with Sinn Fein during the controversial council vote led to Loyalist protests outside the offices of their councilors, and a series of death threats were issued to Alliance representatives such as MP for East Belfast, Naomi Long. The Ulster People’s Forum, led by North Down activist Jamie Bryson and the South Armagh victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer, was linked to a series of flag protests that disrupted rush hour traffic for short periods in towns and cities across Northern Ireland. While the majority of these protests passed off without incident, the first few weeks of 2013 saw the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) come under sustained attack from rioters in the Short Strand/Lower Newtownards Road area of East Belfast on a nightly basis.
Many of these protests were organised on Facebook pages such as Save Our Union Flag, which have functioned as spaces in which members of the Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) tradition not only share information on upcoming demonstrations but also discuss related issues such as effectiveness of the strategy advocated by the Ulster People’s Forum. This paper focuses on audience responses to sousveillance (‘inverse surveillance’) footage shared on YouTube, which focused on incidents in which the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was alleged to have been heavy-handed in their policing of the protests. It will add to the debate over how social media may be used to transmit citizen perspectives on civil unrest by reviewing the relevant literature on sousveillance and presenting the findings from a thematic analysis of 1146 comments posted in response to the four-most commented upon videos showing alleged PSNI brutality against the flag protesters. Results indicate that there was little rational debate about the events captured on camera or the controversial decision to alter the protocol on the flying of the union flag over Belfast City Council. Very few commentators perceived this footage as a form of sousveillance with many criticizing the behaviour of the protesters rather than the PSNI. In this way, the mainstream media narratives on the flag protests appeared to be reproduced by these commentators.
Filippo Trevisan (American University) and I have an article, entitled “Researching protest on Facebook: developing an ethical stance for the study of Northern Irish flag protest pages” published in a special issue of Information, Communication & Society today.
The article can be accessed here
My British Academy funded project entitled YouTube, sousveillance, and the policing of flag protests in Northern Ireland’ will start early next month. I will be recruiting two research assistants to work on the project over the next few months (I will post details of these posts in July).
The University of Leicester has issued a press release about the project:
If you have any questions about the project please feel free to contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)