Blogpost on Kingsmill video row published on Democratic Audit

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


Presenting two papers at MeCCSA 2018

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.

Presenting paper at ESRC CASCADE-NET Seminar, 1st December

This Friday (1st December) I am an invited speaker at the ESRC CASCADE-NET Seminar “The role of Civil Society’s agency in governance and contingency planning: citizenship, participation and social learning.” The seminar, organised by co-Investigator Dr. Martina McGuinness (Management School, University of Sheffield) will be held in Inox Dine, Students’ Union Building, University of Sheffield.

My paper is entitled ‘Social media, citizen empowerment and crisis communication during the 2014 UK Floods’ and draws on my recently completed EC FP7 funded research project CascEff . The slides for my presentation can be found here


ESRC Festival of Social Science event

This morning, Dr Tina McGuinness (Management Studies) and I ran an event for local schools entitled Could social media help you during a disaster?, as part of the 2017 ESRC Festival of Social Science. The description of the event was:

Can social media help build disaster resilience in Sheffield? What role, if any, should social media users, and young people in particular, play in efforts to mitigate the effects of these incidents in their communities and help keep themselves and others safe? Recent research has suggested that social media can help emergency services during human made and natural disasters through the ‘push and pull’ of crisis information. The eyewitness perspectives shared by citizens on social media can help first responders build situational awareness and identify those areas most in need of assistance. At the same time, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can provide emotional and material support to those affected by such incidents. For instance, during the floods in the South-West of England (December 2013-February 2014), citizen-led social media campaigns such as #forageaid helped provide support for affected communities. The latter would also lead a campaign calling on the UK government to dredge local rivers in order to avoid a repeat of these flood events. Twitter hashtags such as #roomformanchester and #wearenotafraid would also be used to provide shelter and express support for those affected by the most recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.

Our guest speakers were:

Dr Tina McGuinness, University of Sheffield

Alex Mills, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service

Heather Cottrill & Derek Bell, UK Environment Agency

Thanks to Alexandra Ricketts and Rebecca Stevenson for assisting with the event and to the students for their participation at what was a very enjoyable event!

Some pictures from the event are below, for further information please see my Storify .



Dr Tina McGuinness presenting her research on social media and flood events



Alex Mills presenting an overview of how SYFR use social media 



Heather Cottrill discusses how the UK Environment Agency has used social media in South Yorkshire

Job: Full-Time Research Associate (fixed term)

I am currently looking for a full-time Research Associate (fixed term for 5 months, to start as soon as possible with provisional end date of 30 May 2018, and probable extension to 31 August 2018) for my EC Horizon 2020 project IMPROVER: Improved risk evaluation and implementation of resilience concepts to critical infrastructure.’ The closing date for applications is 22 November 2017 and further details on the role can be found here

If you have any questions about the role please contact me at:

Paper presented at Transition V: Developing Dialogic Communication conference, Bucharest

This morning my Research Associate Giuliana Tiripelli will present our paper “Challenges and opportunities of dialogic communication in crisis situations: Twitter, affective publics and the 2015 Channel Tunnel fire” at the Understanding Transition V: Developing Dialogic Communication conference at the University of Bucharest. The abstract for the paper can be found below:

Challenges and opportunities of dialogic communication in crisis situations: Twitter, affective publics, and the 2015 Channel Tunnel Fire.

Giuliana Tiripelli & Paul Reilly



The ‘ambient storytelling infrastructure’ of Twitter today enables ‘affective publics’ to present their own perspectives on events and issues (Papacharissi, 2015). This phenomenon challenges established top-down communicative dynamics, in which definitional power appeared to lie with institutions, organisations, and journalists rather than citizens, and seemingly presents new opportunities for dialogic communication between these actors in the digital age. At the same time, ‘affective publics’ “are mobilized … through expressions of sentiment” (Papacharissi, 2016: 311), creating new information flows that challenge the ability of organisations and journalists to channel communicative resources that manage public responses to crises. This paper explores this binary role of ‘affective publics’ in contemporary media ecologies through the study of the Twitter debate that emerged during the Channel Tunnel Fire. The incident on 17th January 2015, during which a lorry was set alight by an electricity bolt from overhead power lines, led to the evacuation of the passengers and significant disruption to Eurostar services for the next few days. Specifically, the study analyses the role played by journalists and Eurostar staff in the co-construction of meaning of the incident. A critical thematic analysis was conducted (Braun and Clarke 2006) to explore key themes of the 12,652 English-language tweets posted between the 17th and 19th January 2015. URL links shared in tweets were also classified using an inductively-developed content analysis codebook. Results indicate that Twitter accounts belonging to members of the public, rather than the affected organisation (Eurostar) or emergency institutions, were primarily responsible for starting information flows about the Channel Tunnel fire and subsequent disruptions. Although many tweets expressed gratitude for the professionalism of the company and their prompt reply to customer queries, the study suggested an ‘imbalance’ between organisations and private citizens in the co-creation of meaning of the incident in favour of the latter. One interpretation of this finding was that it was a manifestation of the increasingly important role played by flexible and mobile affective publics in defining news events within the contemporary ecology, often at the expense of less flexible news organisations and political institutions that operate in these online spaces. This may present practical problems for emergency managers during incidents such as the Channel Tunnel fire, especially when the cacophony of views on Twitter make it difficult to both filter and share real-time crisis information on the microblogging site. In this way, the paper adds to the emergent literature on dialogic communication and disasters by considering the extent to which the mobilisation of affective publics online challenges the ability of emergency managers to share accurate real-time information with members of the public during such incidents.

Braun V and Clarke V (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology 3(2):77-101.

Papacharissi Z (2015) Affective publics: Sentiment, technology and politics. Oxford University Press.

Papacharissi Z (2016) Affective publics and structures of storytelling: sentiment, events and mediality. Information, Communication & Society 19(3):307-324.

ESRC Funded PhD Studentship on social media and disaster resilience

Dr Tina McGuinness (Management) and I are looking for applications for an ESRC PhD studentship, entitled “social media and community resilience: a process based study of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Services.” Funded by the White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership Collaborative award, the successful applicant will work with SYFR to evaluate how sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be used to promote community disaster resilience and encourage citizens to fully participate in disaster risk management and reduction initiatives. Further details on the studentship can be found here and the closing date for applications is 20 March 2017.

Submission to UK Government Inquiry on children and young people’s mental health

I am pleased to report that our written submission to the UK Government inquiry on children and young people’s mental health has been accepted and published. Based on the findings from our Wellcome Trust project, our report addresses the role of social media in raising awareness of mental health issues amongst these groups. Thanks to my co-authors Michelle O’Reilly, Nisha Dogra, Natasha Whiteman and Jason Hughes for their hard work on this.

The submission can be viewed here



Invited presentation at Ulster University

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.