The journal Media, War & Conflict has published a special issue marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The articles explore the role of media in the war's memorialisation. The issue was guest edited by Sarah Maltby, convenor of the War and Media Network and a new editor on the MWC staff. Read Sarah's brief introduction to the special issue here.
The special issue contains the journal's first video abstract. This is for 'The last post: British press representations of veterans of the Great War' by Nick Webber and Paul Long from the University of Birmingham. Alongside the typical 200 word abstract, the authors have uploaded a video talking us through the ideas behind the article. These video abstracts are likely to become more common, and we would be grateful for any feedback to S.Maltby@sussex.ac.uk. Thanks to Nick and Paul for being willing to put themselves up first.
Akil Awan to speak at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on Jihadist Narratives in a Turbulent Middle East and North Africa
Akil Awan will be speaking next week, 12 December 2014 at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Royal United Services Institute one day conference on Jihadist Narratives in a Turbulent MENA Region at Whitehall. Organised by the FCO's National Security Research Group and Middle East and North Africa Research Group, the conference will look at how jihadist narratives have evolved in recent years in response to events in the MENA region, with leading experts in the field discussing recent trends before suggesting implications for policymakers.
To attend, please RSVP to Simon.Staffell@fco.gov.uk & Marie.Haynesperks@fco.gov.uk
Welcome address: Simon Gass, Director General Political, FCO 9:00
SESSION ONE: Start, 9:15; End 10:45
Chair and discussant: Laurie Bristow, Director National Security, FCO
1. Simon Staffell: Overview: Jihadist Narratives in a Turbulent Middle East
2. Donald Holbrook: AQ Senior Leaders
Iraq, Syria and Jordan
3. Nelly Lahoud: ISIL
4. Joas Wagemakers: Jordanian Narratives
SESSION TWO: North Africa Start, 11:15; End 12:30
Chair and discussant: Cornelia Sorabji, Head of Research Analysts, FCO
5. Omar Ashour: Libya and Egypt
6. Valentina Bartolucci: Maghreb
7. Jonathan Githens-Mazer: Tunisia
SESSION THREE: Other Regions and Responses Start, 13:30; End 15:00
Chair and discussant: Raffaello Pantucci, Director International Security Studies, RUSI
8. Elisabeth Kendall: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
9. Christopher Anzalone: Shia responses to Jihadist narratives in a turbulent MENA
10. Martha Turnball: Responses from jihadists outside MENA
SESSION FOUR: Implications for Policy and at Home Start, 15:00; End: 16:30
Chair and discussant: Raffaello Pantucci, Director International Security Studies, RUSI
11. Akil Awan: Impact on radicalisation
12. Rachel Briggs: Policy implications
Last night Ben O'Loughlin spoke at the launch for Tobias Blanke's new book, Digital Asset Ecosystems: Rethinking Crowds and Clouds. Tobias is Senior Lecturer at the Centre for E-Research at King's College London.
Tobias argues we inhabit ecosystems best understood through the complementary interaction of clouds (digital platforms, ubiquitous and heavily interlinked) and crowds (humans collaborating, knowingly or not). Clouds and crowds are ‘two sides of the same coin’ (p3). Through this division of labour, value is produced – cultural, social, economic but primarily network value. This means rethinking what digital assets are. They are not files, objects or items with content; they are connectors whose value depends on them being circulated and consumed through networks.
The research task that follows, for those of us in political communication as well as in digital humanities and big data research, is to follow the assets. Tobias writes, ‘how digital assets integrate in digital networks in their life cycle, how they move from place to place and from system to system, and how they pass through the hands of ‘dedicated communities’’ (p8, italics added) This is similar to Arjun Appadurai’s approach to cultural economy in tribal societies: follow objects and the meaning they have to their holders/consumers as they pass from person to person. The difference between passing a sacred artifact or gift around then and passing a campaign strategy document around today is that today network effects kick in. The circuit of connectivity around the object is open, unknowable in advance, and difficult to control without harsh rights management techniques. The NPCU has tracked and theorised how these assets become meaningful and valuable, for instance through Chadwick’s work on Obama's campaign videos or O’Loughlin’s work on jihadist videos.
But a conceptual problem becomes apparent in a digital ecosystem. Is meaning – and therefore ascription of value -- only generated by humans? Tobias shows this might not be the case. The semantic web or web 3.0 allows computers to evaluate how an object/asset is valuable qua what it can do and what functions it can help with within digital networks. The result is we find a mix of computers calculating link-ability in big data and use-ability in networks, and humans calculating qualitatively; somehow these join together – clouds and crowds perform ongoing co-evaluation operations. In this way, digital assets are continually valued, assessed, integrated; their value is ongoing-ly produced and affirmed or diminished.
This leads to a conception of rational, strategic action: harness and deploy this interplay of clouds and crowds to generate things of value, i.e. that connect, sell, connect, sell. Tobias discusses the case of Amazon’s Mechanical Turks and other free, voluntary or cheap labour. The book explores the political economy of digital ecosystems and offers a fresh understanding of value, labour, property and other classic concepts in a way that moves on from the open source debates of the 1990s and 2000s. All of this leads naturally to questions of open data. Most clouds are privately owned and owners like Amazon and Apple are strategic about how to open or close them in ways that maximize network value. Most citizens are not so strategic and lack the resources to create their own clouds. Could we have public service clouds? Not when trust in the state is so low, after the actions of the NSA and GCHQ. But what does public even mean anymore? Is it necessarily synonymous with the state? And what prospects are there for public demand for open data to be generated and them realized? Given that our political subjectivities and strategies are formed within these digital ecosystems, surely the loop is closed?
The book is well worth a read and shows the virtue of interdisciplinary thinking. As one of the social scientists present noted after the discussion, who knew that computer science had theory?
Ben O'Loughlin will present in the weekly seminar of the Department of Criminology & Sociology today at 4pm. His title is 'Tweeting the Olympics: The BBC, Engagement and Influence after London 2012'. Ben will present social media research done by the New Political Communication Unit and the Open University with BBC World during the 2012 Olympics and look ahead to how audience engagement can be conceptualised and measured in a hybrid, multilingual media landscape.
Time: 4pm - 5.30pm
Place: Arts Building G24
Refreshments will be available in the Arts Building Foyer from 3.45pm.
This thesis explores UK news discourse on counterterrorism. News discourse on counterterrorism involves representations of history, space and identities in order to frame risks, threats and responses. To gain analytical purchase on this, this research considers the forms of cosmopolitanism that emerge in this context and how they are constructed. The concept of cosmopolitanism not only provides critical purpose and a benchmark to evaluate how the order of discourse could be different, but it is utilised here as an analytical tool. Recognising diverse interpretations of the concept of cosmopolitanism, a review of academic literature delineates cosmopolitan perspectives pertinent to a study on counterterrorism that are then located in the news discourse.
The first case study centres on discourse surrounding interrogation techniques used in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and adds a comparative perspective for three 21st century case studies on UK complicity in torture, the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Pakistan and the passage of the UK Justice and Security Bill (2012-2013) through parliament. Through assessment of texts and the use of interviews and ethnographic methods this critical discourse analysis explores the dialectical relations between juridical, academic, governmental and activist fields, denoting strategies employed by key actors.
This study finds that in contemporary discourse risk-based cosmopolitanism is most prominent. Discussion of transnational and diffuse terrorist threats and counterterrorism measures have reinforced risk discourses and impacted on the cosmopolitanism that has emerged. A focus on risk has been reflected beyond government and news media fields thereby diminishing concerns for the Other. Despite the rise of transnationalism, risk discourses are supported through a national pride that has remained constant surrounding security since the 1970s. Overall, this thesis demonstrates how actors from government and news media fields have influenced political communication, thereby minimising, although not categorically precluding, the imperative for policy change.
NPCU PhD student Mark Pope will present today at the Media, Persuasion & Human Rights conference at Bangor University, organised by the Political Studies Association (PSA) Media and Politics Group and supported by BBC Monitoring. Mark will present analysis of the struggle to define the discursive terrain in the debate about the 2012-13 Justice and Security Bill. His abstract is below.
Title: ‘The Justice and Security Bill 2012-2013: the battle for a genre’.
The Justice and Security Act that was passed by the UK Parliament in 2013 provided for civil cases involving national security to be heard in closed proceedings. This Act threatens the principle of open justice by restricting the public scrutiny that civil claims surrounding human rights abuses can provide. In cases related to allegations of UK complicity in torture, the judicial field had previously been a key source of information. This paper considers how this Bill was deliberated in the UK parliament and the news media and also the potential the legislation has to impact on public debate on human rights and security issues in future. It draws on a doctoral thesis exploring UK news discourse on counterterrorism. To gain analytical purchase on this, this research considers the forms of cosmopolitanism that emerge in this context and how they are constructed. The concept of cosmopolitanism not only provides critical purpose and a benchmark to evaluate how the order of discourse could be different, but it is utilised here as an analytical tool. This paper finds that discussion of transnational and diffuse terrorist threats reinforced risk discourses and impacted on the cosmopolitanism that emerged. A focus on risk has diminished concerns for the Other. This, combined with the capacity of the UK Government to influence the order of discourse and structuring of argumentation surrounding the legislative process, ensured the Bill was passed with minimal amendments.
POSTPONED, PLEASE AWAIT UPDATE
The New Political Communication Unit is to start running practitioner masterclasses each term with professionals working in political communication. Please find details of the first of these below.
NPCU Practitioner Masterclass
Author of The Dark Net
Jamie Bartlett is the Director of Demos' Centre for the Analysis of Social Media.
Date: 12 November 2014, 16:00 – 18:00
Place: Windsor Building, WIN 0-05
His new book is a revelatory examination of the net's most shocking and unexplored subcultures: trolls and home-pornographers, drug dealers and hackers, political extremists and computer scientists, Bitcoin programmers and self-harmers, libertarians and vigilantes.
Jamie will talk to the New Political Communication Unit about his new book. He will also discuss Demos’ research on digital media and politics and the challenge we face as researchers in this field.
This week saw the US Council of Foreign Relations host a prestigious dinner in Atlanta to discuss findings from the New Political Communication’s project on media, religion and conflict, funded by the British Council and partnered with Georgia State University and the Carter Center. The discussion led by Prof Ben O’Loughlin, Dr Akil Awan, Dr Abbas Barzegar, Dr Shawn Powers focused on the ongoing conflict in Syria.
The rise of ISIS this summer has made more tragic the failure to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict in the past three years. It has also sharpened attention on the role of media in conflict. ISIS, opposition groups and the Assad regime try to mobilize support through social media. Westerners see the conflict on TV or the internet and travel to Syria to fight. At the same time, divisions between Sunni, Shia and other ethno-religious groups, magnified by backers from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and other regional powers, point to the importance of religion in the conflict. More precisely, it points to the strategic uses and representations of religion to mobilize actors to perpetuate the violence. Participants in the debate wanted to know, could religion and its mediation be used in the services of peace instead?
The team were keen to unpack the role of religion and its presumed role and its role in conflict resolution. They argued that religious leaders must be religious to be peacebuilders but it is their civic and social capacities that guarantee their effectiveness in peacebuilding. Religiosity is a necessary condition; it provides credibility in societies where religion is the norm or individuals manage their lives through faith. A leader’s civic and social capacities are a sufficient condition. Without those, faith and moral guidance will have no effect on the political and social processes driving violence. These conclusions are only possible by understanding religion as practice, community and institutions as well as discourse or doctrine. The project team also argued that, since peacebuilding is a communicative phenomenon, attention to the role of media in these processes is essential. Policymakers often seek to insert a peacebuilding narrative into a social space from the outside, often with negative unintended consequences. The project -- and a consensus within communication studies -- indicates peacebuilding must work with the grain of existing, trusted media habits and rituals. In short, religious leadership can contribute to peacebuilding not by ‘communicating the right message’ to protagonists but by using positions of credibility to work with and on social and civic relations
However, the team also argued that media, particularly in the social media age, could be highly problematic too, acting as a hindrance to reconciliation and the mitigation of conflict. They employed the case of ISIS in Syria and Iraq today to illustrate the potential social media holds in amplifying or at least overstating the importance of conflict, pointing to a at least three examples of this phenomenon in action:
1) ISIS have proven themselves to be highly proficient in their social media strategies, employing large scale usage of Twitter and other social media platforms to amplify their threat and their potential. Resembling the beating of war drums of marching armies of the past, ISIS advances into Iraq have been presaged by volleys of tweets designed to overwhelm the unfortunate inhabitants caught up in their warpath. Indeed, in the day prior to the fall of Mosul, ISIS using sophisticated social media management tools, tweeted 40,000 times in a single day, as part of their concerted and incredibly media-savvy campaign. We might think of this campaign as part of a very shrewd psychological warfare strategy, not dissimilar to the Mongols who, when besieging cities, would often have their fighters build multiple campfires, so that when the besieged inhabitants looked out upon the plain of campfires, they would overestimate the numbers of warriors camped there.
2) Beheading videos: The recent beheadings of 4 Western journalists was clearly part of a very savvy media strategy; propaganda expertly choreographed to engender fear and outrage in a Western audience. However, perhaps even more shocking than the brutal savagery on display, was the symbiotic relationship with terrorist propaganda exhibited by virtually all media outlets, who in an astounding display of servile compliance, displayed these images prominently in newspaper headlines or breaking news segments. The message imparted to audiences was clear; there was nothing more newsworthy, more deserving of audiences’ attention and moral outrage, happening anywhere else in the world than these particular beheadings. The importance ascribed to these events distorts their actual importance in the overall scale of events in conflict zones, granting them a significance that belies their actual importance, relative to other events taking place.
3) Finally, thanks to social media and ready access to media platforms, the Syria conflict is the most documented conflict in history, with at least one minute of video footage recorded for every minute of the conflict; a staggering proposition by any measure. This glut of information means that every violent act, every grotesque violation of human rights, is now freely available in the public domain, accessible to anyone who wishes to search for it, and for anyone who wishes to use it as motivation for reciprocal retributive violence. This focus on the violence potentially also impinges on the potential for conflict resolution, and reconciliation between communities, once the conflict is eventually over. Whilst truth is a fundamental pre-requisite of post-conflict truth and reconciliation, in a strange way, too much ‘truth’ or at least an inordinate and inescapable focus on the clearly documented violence, thanks to social media, may make reconciliation between estranged communities that much more difficult.
However, in recognising the amplification effect of social media, they also argued that it is important not to throw the baby out with the bath water, and recognise the utility that analysis of social media and big data in particular may hold. The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, for example, was identified by big data analysis tools that used algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites and social networks, a full 9 days prior to the outbreak’s recognition by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Following a similar logic, it may be possible to predict where outbreaks of violence are likely to occur through the mapping of Pre-Conflict using big data analyses. It may be possible to offer early interventions at these critical violent flashpoints to resolve or mitigate conflict.
The project is ongoing and the team will be publishing a range of outputs over the next few months, including policy briefing papers in addition to academic articles.
Ben O'Loughlin is speaking at a Democracy Forum seminar in Parliament on the topic ‘The impact of social media on democracy’ today, Thursday 16 October 2014, at 2-5pm. Details below, including how to attend.
Sir Peter Luff, MP and Chairman of The Democracy Forum
Carl Miller, DEMOS
Dr Veronica Barassi, Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy
(CSGMD), Goldsmiths College
Dr Nick Anstead, Dept of Media & Communications, London School of Economics
Professor Ben O’Loughlin, New Political Communication Unit,
Royal Holloway, University of London
Committee Room 16, Committee Corridor
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
(Nearest tube station: Westminster)
DIGITAL MEDIA, POWER, AND DEMOCRACY IN ELECTION CAMPAIGNS: A WORKSHOP
Convenors: Andrew Chadwick and Jennifer Stromer-Galley
Over recent years, the uprisings in Eastern Europe and the Middle East have focused attention on the question of digital media and political power. This has resulted in a wave of research on the relationships between technological change, mobilization, and revolutionary activism in authoritarian and semi-democratic political contexts.
While this research has generated important insights, we suggest that it should now be joined by fresh analysis of the role of digital media in election campaigns. We call for papers that are international or comparative in orientation, that present new evidence, and that connect the study of digital media explicitly with questions concerning power and democracy. We invite authors to examine established democracies both in and beyond the United States and Europe, and in emerging and what comparative regime theorists have termed “difficult democracies” across the world.
Our aim is to bring together scholars for a two-day workshop at Greenberg House, Syracuse University’s base in Washington, D.C., on June 25 and 26, 2015. Papers will be considered for peer review and potential inclusion in a special issue of the International Journal of Press/Politics (IJPP) to be published in 2016.
Central to the political life of all types of democracies are the organizations, practices, and media technologies of election campaigns, yet we know surprisingly little about the changes that have occurred in this field over recent years. We invite papers that explore what we see as the increasingly contested issue of the balance of power between political elites, digital media actors, and citizens in election campaigning. Our aim is to orient this project around two classical and fruitfully contested concepts: power and democracy.
We are keen to attract papers that explore continuity and change in the power relations that shape campaigns. We conceive of these power relations in three principal ways.
First, we see a need to focus on the internal communication structures of party and campaign organizations. How and to what extent have digital media changed the organizational characteristics of parties and campaigns? Are internal hierarchies becoming flatter? Are newer forms of communicative expertise shifting the balance of power between candidates, elite campaign professionals, and rank and file activists? What roles are emerging for the growing practices of data analytics, dataveillance, and voter activation?
Second, scholars may focus on power relations in the communication flows between party and campaign organizations and the wider constellation of organizations and quasi-organizations within which citizen participation now occurs. To what extent are the boundaries between parties and campaigns and looser citizen activist networks and advocacy groups being blurred by the use of digital media? What is the role of specialist digital consultants? To what extent have the mid-2000s predictions about the loosening of communicative and organizational discipline in parties and campaigns proved correct? Are citizens’ and activists’ uses of digital media playing a role in hastening the decline or even the “death” of political parties, as has been widely discussed, for example, in the United Kingdom over recent years?
Third, papers may examine the interactions between ordinary citizens and party and campaign organizations. As campaigns and parties spread their messaging and involvement efforts to social media, the affordances of those media open up possibilities for increased interaction and communication between ordinary citizens and the official campaign apparatus. But the presence of affordances does not guarantee their use. In what ways are citizens involving themselves in the workings of campaigns? In what ways or to what extent are parties and campaigns actually opening up their organizations, messaging, and planning to ordinary citizens? Are such actions carefully structured by campaigns or are they genuinely open to the ideas and strategies of citizens?
We primarily seek papers that advance empirical knowledge. Undergirding our interest in these themes, however, is intense normative curiosity about the potential democratizing effects of digital media, not only in relatively “settled” liberal-democratic contexts but also in the globally important difficult-democratic cases that increasingly inform thinking about real-world democracy, such as, for example, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico, Singapore, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, the Balkan states, and parts of central and eastern Europe. Our concern with the difficult democracies emerges because it could be the case that in these political systems important power shifts are more likely.
We would like authors to directly address the question of whether the adoption of digital media is increasing citizens’ influence over the hierarchical organizational structures that have typically dominated parties and election campaigns since the rise of the mass broadcast era. We also want authors to think about conditionality: the balance of forces and causes that shape whether changes in mediated campaigning are democratizing or not democratizing in their effects.
We have no orthodoxy regarding data and methods. We foresee a range of approaches: single country and comparative studies; papers adopting methods of big data analysis; those adopting quantitative approaches; and those situated within qualitative and ethnographic traditions.
PROCEDURE AND SCHEDULE
*November 14, 2014: 500-word paper proposals due. Please email your proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
*November 28, 2014: Requests for full papers to authors and invitations to the workshop at Greenberg House, Syracuse University’s dedicated base in Washington D.C., to be held June 25–26, 2015.
*June 1, 2015: Full workshop papers to Andrew and Jennifer.
*June 25–26, 2015: Workshop.
Note: The conference conveners are working to find sponsorships to help defray the costs of attending the workshop.
*June 30, 2015: Call for papers for the special issue of the IJPP.
*July 31, 2015: Full papers submitted to IJPP for anonymous peer review.
*Peer review process completed by January 2016.
*Publication of special issue in mid to late 2016.
ABOUT THE CONVENORS
Andrew Chadwick is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he founded the New Political Communication Unit in 2007. Since the late 1990s he has authored numerous publications about digital media and political communication. His books include: The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power (Oxford University Press, 2013), which won the Best Book Award of the American Political Science Association’s Section on Information Technology and Politics; The Handbook of Internet Politics, co-edited with Philip N. Howard (Routledge 2009); and Internet Politics: States, Citizens, and New Communication Technologies (Oxford University Press, 2006), which won the American Sociological Association Outstanding Book Award (Communication and Information Technologies Section) and is among the most widely-cited books in its field. Andrew is the founding Editor of the Oxford University Press book series Oxford Studies in Digital Politics, which currently features 13 books, a founding Associate Editor (2006-09) and Senior Editorial Board member (ongoing) of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics, and an editorial board member of the new Sage journal, Social Media and Society. In 2009 he guest-edited a special issue of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics on the theme of politics and web 2.0. Andrew’s website is at http://www.andrewchadwick.com and he tweets as @andrew_chadwick
Jennifer Stromer-Galley is Associate Professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, and Vice President of the Association of Internet Researchers. She has been studying “social media” since before it was called social media. She is an expert on human interaction through digital media, and has written extensively about political institutions’ uses of the internet for governance and for campaigning. She recently published Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age (Oxford University Press, 2014), which details the ways presidential campaigns have adapted to and adopted digital media in the United States across five election cycles. She has also developed measures of influence, leadership, and discussion quality through social media. Jenny has published over 40 journal articles, proceedings, and book chapters, and has been co-Principal Investigator of projects that have received over $12 million in support from the National Science Foundation, IARPA, and the Air Force Research Lab. She is currently Associate Editor for the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Communication. Her website is www.stromer-galley.com, and she tweets as @profjsg.
ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PRESS/POLITICS
The International Journal of Press/Politics (IJPP), published quarterly, is an interdisciplinary journal for the analysis and discussion of the role of media and politics in a globalized world. The Journal publishes theoretical and empirical research which analyzes the linkages between the news media and political processes and actors.