Democratic Audit piece on journalists and ‘fake news’ in Northern Ireland

I have published a piece on Democratic Audit UK that explores efforts to tackle mis-and disinformation in Northern Ireland. In the article, I explore whether the contextual factors associated with information disorder, such as declining trust in media and political institutions, are present in the ‘post-conflict’ society. Drawing on my research on the 2014 and 2015 Ardoyne parade disputes,  and my recent submission to the UK DCMS Fake News inquiry, I explore several examples of how journalists have debunked rumours and disinformation spread on social media about contentious parades and protests. I argue that the survival of an independent and free press within Northern Ireland is a pre-requisite for reducing the pollution of its information ecosystem.

The article can be accessed here

 

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Press release on social media and mis/disinformation in Northern Ireland

The University of Sheffield have issued a press release covering my recent work on mis-and disinformation in Northern Ireland.  This draws on my recent submission to the UK House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s Fake News inquiry, which argued that local journalists and politicians had a key role to play in countering ‘fake news’ shared via social media in Northern Ireland. Some selected quotes from the release are below:

Dr Reilly said: “While citizens played a role in sharing tweets that corrected rumours, mis-and disinformation shared on social media during these incidents, it is clear that professional journalists have a critical role to play in factchecking such claims and amplifying corrections and debunks.”

Other key points from Dr Reilly’s submission to the Fake News inquiy relate to the terminology used by politicians and the news media to describe such activity. He argues that the term ‘fake news’ fails to capture the complexities of how false information is created and shared via social media.

Dr Reilly added: “Fake news has become something of a ‘floating signifier’ – a term that can be weaponised by political groups to discredit news coverage that they disagree with. It also fails to capture the nuances of a spectrum of activity on social media that might be broadly defined as ‘false information;’ This ranges from the relatively benign behaviour of parody social media accounts that poke fun at our politicians to the more malevolent and sinister use of ‘troll farms’ to manufacture news with the intention of sowing confusion and disunity within democracies.”

The Conversation UK article on social media and disasters published

My colleague Dr. Ioanna Tantanasi and I have published an article entitled ‘Social media’s not all bad- it’s saving lives in disaster zones‘ for the Conversation UK today. The piece draws on our CascEff and IMPROVER work on social media and crisis communication.  Thanks to Stephen Harris for his editorial support and the invitation to comment on this issue.

Written submission to DCMS Fake News inquiry published

My written submission to the Fake News Enquiry, entitled ‘Fake news, mis-and disinformation in Northern Ireland,’ has been published by the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport Committee.

In the submission, I draw on my 17 years of research into digital media and conflict transformation in Northern Ireland to discuss how social media has been used to share  mis-and disinformation during contentious episodes, such as the union flag protests and the Ardoyne parade dispute. The submission can be viewed here

Interviewed for Canvas8 article on Vero

Last month, I was interviewed by freelance writer and journalist Hatty Nestor on the future of Vero, which has been heralded as the first ad-free social media platform. I raised questions about the long-term viability of Vero, which requires users to pay a monthly subscription fee rather than selling their data to advertisers.

The article, ‘Vero: ad free social media that puts privacy first,’ has now been published in Canvas8 and can be accessed here

 

New article published in School Mental Health

I have had a new article published in the journal School Mental Health. The article, based on research funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by Michelle O’Reilly (Leicester University), focuses on adolescent mental health and is based on data gathered from focus groups conducted with adolescents, mental health practitioners and educational professionals. The article is available Online First here and the full citation and abstract can be viewed below.

O’Reilly, M., Adams, S., Whiteman, N., Hughes, J., Reilly, P., & Dogra, N. (2018) Whose responsibility is adolescent’s mental health in the UK? The perspectives of key stakeholders, School Mental Health. DOI 10.1007/s12310-018-9263-6

The mental health of adolescents is a salient contemporary issue attracting the attention of policy makers in the UK and other countries. It is important that the roles and responsibilities of agencies are clearly established, particularly those positioned at the forefront of implementing change. Arguably, this will be more effective if those agencies are actively engaged in the development of relevant policy. An exploratory study was conducted with 10 focus groups including 54 adolescents, 8 mental health practitioners and 16 educational professionals. Thematic analysis revealed four themes: (1) mental health promotion and prevention is not perceived to be a primary role of a teacher; (2) teachers have limited skills to manage complex mental health difficulties; (3) adolescents rely on teachers for mental health support and education about mental health; and (4) the responsibility of parents for their children’s mental health. The research endorses the perspective that teachers can support and begin to tackle mental well-being in adolescents. However, it also recognises that mental health difficulties can be complex, requiring adequate funding and support beyond school. Without this support in place, teachers are vulnerable and can feel unsupported, lacking in skills and resources which in turn may present a threat to their own mental well-being.

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

Abstract:

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

Abstract:

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 .

 

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

 

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Alex Mills presenting an overview of how SYFR use social media 

 

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