The August issue of Media, War & Conflict is out here. The issue opens with an article 'Surprise Homecomings and Vicarious Sacrifices', presented by Lisa Silvestri at the MWC 5th anniversary conference at Royal Holloway in April. Below is the editors' summary of Lisa's piece and the rest of the articles. We hope you will enjoy reading this issue.
Much academic labour has been invested in studies of how the media behave when a nation prepares for war and wages it. Relatively little has gone into studies of media behaviour in the ebbing of wars, and in their aftermath, although the part media play in post-conflict rebuilding and reconciliation has been examined (see for example Best et al. in Media, War and Conflict 4, 3).
Two articles in this issue of Media, War and Conflict turn our attention to this relatively neglected area. Lisa Silvestri discusses YouTube homecoming videos showing American servicemen being reunited with their families, especially their children. She suggests that through these video presentations of the emotional sacrifices made by the families of soldiers, audiences are able to experience a 'vicarious sacrifice'. Such means of vicarious involvement in war are important in an age when for most citizens in North America and much of Europe there is no direct experience of wars which the soldiers of their nations are fighting, not any perceptible effect on their lives. They are important in raising awareness of war and its costs, and of specific conflicts which otherwise some people would be entirely oblivious to. They are also important in shaping public opinion, and, as Silvestri points out, in inviting membership of a national community. Some readers might take issue with the general characterisation of these videos as 'sentimental', and also see more opportunities for audience identification in them other than those with the children which Silvestri focusses on. They must however offer some opportunity for idealisation, and for occluding what it is the soldier has returned from, in a way that news bulletins reporting the latest casualties in Helmand, with their names and photographs, do not. Audience identifications with the families of those dead men will not be pleasurable. Individual homecomings, while not in reality necessarily marking the end of war, will evoke the sense of its coming end, without confronting the audience with its full costs. Yet they will leave it open for audiences to choose from the full range of views of what the war was about, its damage and results.
Read on here [pdf].
From 23-29 November 2013 the Council of Europe will hold the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg. The week long series of events is focused on the theme Re-Wiring Democracy: Connecting Institutions and Citizens in a Digital Age. There are events for the public as well as expert groups and high profile testimonies.
The Council have generously agreed to hold a lab on Semantic Polling, a concept developed at the New Political Communication Unit that refers to the gathering and analysis of social media data to understand public opinion. The NCPU's Ben O'Loughlin will act as discussant and provide a critical response to experiments runs by a set of innovators working in this area:
Ms Tanja AITAMURTO, Finland, Visiting Researcher at the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University
Tanja Aitamurto is a visiting researcher at the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford. She examines how collective intelligence, whether harnessed by crowdsourcing, co-creation or open innovation, impacts processes in journalism, public policy making and design. Related to her studies, she advises the Government and the Parliament of Finland about Open Government practices. Based on her previous research findings, she runs a pioneering experiment to crowdsource a law in Finland with the Ministry of Environment and the Committee for the Future.
Mr Mikael JUNGNER, Finland, Member of Parliament
Mikael Jungner is a member of the Finnish Parliament and former Secretary General of the Finnish Socialdemocratic Party. He is the former CEO of a Finnish Broadcasting Company and former Political Secretary to the Finnish Prime Minister. Mikael Jungner is a lawyer by training. His main interests are in social media and start up's.
Mr Joonas PEKKANEN, Finland, Founder of Open Ministry
Joonas Pekkanen is the founder of Open Ministry, an NGO that aims to crowdsource legislation. Pekkanen has studied Finance and Law. He worked for 10 years as a co-founder in several internet and mobile startups prior to his pro-democratic endeavours. Pekkanen is a member of the Open Government Partnership committee in Finland and on the board of Open Knowledge Finland.
Ben has conducted a range of research in this field with Nick Anstead investigating how companies (including Semiocast), pollsters and journalists make sense of online polling. They found this was a largely unregulated area in which claims about "public opinion" based on social media monitoring research hit the news with very little scrutiny of the methods or meaning of the data or claims made about it. However, these techniques do allow fine grained analysis of shifts in public sentiment that can be used as incredibly large, real-time focus groups.
We are grateful to Roberto Fasino at the Council of Europe for his help with the event.
Places are still available for September 2013 to study for the MSc New Political Communication at Royal Holloway, University of London. Following the recent addition of five new permanent faculty including Dr Cristian Vaccari, we are now able to teach a greater number of Masters students.
Established in 2007, this Masters degree remains unique in its emphasis on digital politics. It can be taken over one year full time or two years part time and is based in the New Political Communication Unit, which is a research centre based in the Department of Politics and International Relations and co-directed by Professor Andrew Chadwick and Professor Ben O'Loughlin.
The MSc consists of a core course in New Political Communication, and students may take options from courses across the entire range of politics and international relations options. Popular choices for students on the MSc New Political Communication include Social Media and Politics; Media, War, and Conflict; and Internet and New Media Politics.
To read more about the programme, click here.
For information on how to apply please visit the Deparment's website here.
If you have a query about the programme or how to enrol, please contact Dr. Michael Bacon, Postgraduate Coordinator, at Michael.Bacon@rhul.ac.uk.
Students who have taken this Masters in recent years have gone on to work in political parties, government, diplomacy, filmmaking, journalism, public relations, NGO work, and to carry out PhDs at Royal Holloway and the University of Warwick, among others.
The NPCU's Dr Akil Awan was invited as the lead academic expert witness at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Uncertainties on the eve of eighth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings, where he briefed parliamentarians and policymakers on violent extremism in Britain, before taking questions on the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.
He argued that policymakers, the media, and security services had been guilty of using lazy language which had had the negative effect of presenting radicalisation as a simple conveyor-belt like process, when academics were still uncertain about the causes.
Morover, he suggested that if we were able to manipulate the outcomes of radicalisation away from violence, young people might be encouraged to experiment with radical views in order to shake them out of political apathy. Indeed, he offered, that radicalisation of young people could even potentially be a good thing, as it usually indicated a political awakening and a desire to change the world around them for the better
He contrasted the political engagement of radicals with the widespread apathy among Britain’s youth in recent years, evident from very low voter turnouts among 18 to 24-year-olds in recent elections.
He argued that this was naturally of great concern for wider society. The extent to which people are engaged with politics is critical to a democratic society, but the potentially dangerous language which has brought terms like ‘radicalisation’ into the popular lexicon, means young voters can be wary of expressing unconventional views, discouraging healthy political debate.
There’s an old adage that says: ‘If you’re young and you’re not a radical, you’ve got no soul; whereas if you’re old and still a radical, you’ve got no sense’. That sums up the important part radical politics plays in the normal political awakening of young people throughout history. It isn’t something to be feared.
Awan's book Radicalisation and Media is out in paperback here.
We are delighted to announce that the British Council USA will fund a new project led by NPCU and Georgia State University, entitled Religion, Conflict Resolution, and Digital Media in the Greater Muslim World: Dialogue Among Policymakers and Researchers.
This project responds to the increasing role of religious institutions and networks in addressing social unrest, conflict, extremism, and discord through arbitration and/or humanitarian assistance. The project will also seek to unravel the interplay between the governance and conflict resolution work of these organizations and the growing use of digital technologies. The dialogues organized as part of this project will bring together policymakers, scholars, and the media to specifically examine the role of Muslim institutions in the aforementioned aspects of international affairs.
The project is part of the first year of the British Council USA's Bridging Voices scheme. It is run by Ben O'Loughlin and Akil Awan at the New Political Communication Unit, Royal Holloway and Shawn Powers and Abbas Barzegar at Georgia State University. Workshops will take place in late 2013 in London and spring 2014 in Atlanta.
Partners: Georgia State University – Royal Holloway, University of London – Oxford University – The Carter Center
On 5 July 2013 NPCU Co-Director Ben O'Loughlin was appointed Specialist Advisor to the new House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence. The committee is investigating how the UK uses soft power in furthering its global influence. A country's soft power refers to its ability to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion or payments, according to Jo Nye. Since attraction and influence are often intangible and hard to measure, foreign policymakers are recognising that the use of soft power presents a conceptual as well as practical challenge. However, there is concern that rising powers are putting increased resources into promoting their soft power, and that a fast-changing media ecology makes it more difficult to control how a country is perceived by others. The committee has an opportunity therefore to get at some of the big questions about how states approach international affairs in the 21st century.
Ben is advising on the selection of witnesses from politics, business and culture to be invited to give evidence, the questions they will be asked, and how evidence should be interpreted. He will help write a report due 14 March 2014, to which the government will respond. On Monday 15 July the committee will question Peter Horrocks, Director of the BBC World Service and Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British Council, while the following weeks will focus on trade and aid.
The remit of the committee covers ground explored in Ben’s forthcoming book with Alister Miskimmon and Laura Roselle, Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order.
NPCU PhD student Billur Aslan attended the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute between June 24th and July 5th at Oxford University. The Institute brought together young academicians, lawyers and regulators from all over the world. This year, the seminars focused on two main media policy topics. The first week’s seminars were concentrated on media transitions in conflict environments like Myanmar, South Africa and Arab Spring countries. In the second week, speakers discussed the Internet policies and regulations around the world. Participants were also informed about strategic communication in conflict, post-conflict and transitional environments. Billur delivered a presentation about the role of the Internet on political transition in Egypt. The paper was titled: The Diffusion of Revolutionary Movements via the Internet: Egyptian Protests.
The key speakers at the institute were: Yaman Akdeniz, Collin Anderson, Gregory Asmolov, Joan Barata, Susan Benesch, David Campbell, Ge Chen, Rogier Creemers, Richard Danbury, James Deane, Iginio Gagliardone, Esben Q. Harboe, Jose Alberto de Azeredo Lopes, Robin Mansell, Tarlach McGonagle, Ben O'Loughlin, Oreste Pollicino, Monroe Price, Rob Procter, Nawfel Raghay, Krisztina Rozgonyi, Christian Sandvig , Daniela Stockmann, Nicole Stremlau, Chris Watson, George Weiss, Hu Yong, Sudharma Yoonaidharma.
Participants also spent a day at Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator. The Ofcom staff spoke to the group about traditional media regulations in the UK and new developments they are facing.
Former NPCU PhD student Dr. Lawrence Ampofo is convening the Insight 2.0 conference in London on 24 October 2013. This is the second in his Insight 2.0 series, and will no doubt attract exciting talks from those working on social media analysis in business, government, and academia. The conference website is here.
If you have any enquiries about the conference, please contact Lawrence at email@example.com.
The International Communication Association (ICA) is in London this week. The NPCU's James Sloam took part in a pre-conference workshop on The Political Communication of Young People through Social Media. The workshop was organised by Brian D. Loader (University of York, UK), Ariadne Vromen (University of Sydney, Australia) and Michael Xenos (University of Wisconsin at Madison, USA). Participants included W. Lance Bennett & Alexandra Segerberg talking about connective action, Liesbet van Zoonen on Islam and virtual battlegrounds, and Stephen Coleman on the Youth Amplified project.
Here is a summary of James's paper. For the full paper email him on James.Sloam@rhul.ac.uk.
‘“The Outraged Young”: Young Europeans, Civic Engagement and the Social Media in a Time of Crisis’
James Sloam (Royal Holloway University of London)
In almost all established democracies engagement in traditional political institutions has declined in recent decades, leading to what some have seen as a crisis in citizenship. This trend is most striking amongst young people, who have become increasingly alienated from mainstream electoral politics in Europe. At the same time, young Europeans have become increasingly marginalised by and from public policy since the onset of the global financial crisis: from worsening levels of child poverty, to spiralling youth unemployment, to cuts in youth services and education budgets, to increased university tuition fees. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming evidence to show that young people are not apathetic about ‘politics’ – they have their own views and engage in democracy in a wide variety of ways relevant to their everyday lives. In this context, the rise and proliferation of protest politics amongst young Europeans is hardly surprising. Indeed, youth activism has become a major feature of the European political landscape: from the Occupy movement against the excesses of global capitalism, to mass demonstrations of the ‘outraged young’ (the ‘indignados’) against political corruption and youth unemployment, to growth in support for ‘pirate parties’ in defence of individual freedom. This paper will examine the role that the social media has played in the development of these protest movements across the continent.
NPCU PhD student Billur Aslan's thoughts on the role of social media in Turkey's protest movement have been published by the Annenberg School's Center for Global Communication Studies. Billur will take part this July in the Annenberg-Oxford summer school, along with emerging young activists, journalists and scholars. We re-post Billur's argument below, thanks to CGCS.
The Gezi Park protests of May and June 2013 appeared as an unexpected and extraordinary face of Turkish youth, a generation largely raised during a period absent of widespread protests. While the older generation witnessed a bloody era of Turkey through the 1970s, a 1980 military coup ensured prolonged de-politicization of Turkish society by banning political activists from engaging in political activities for 15 years. Moreover, 30,000 political activists were forced to leave the country and about 500 death sentences were pronounced (Pfannkuch, 2013). Therefore, the generation born after 1980 were educated to be reticent when it came to politics. Even the young Turks themselves were surprised by the active presence and commitment of their peers in the protests, which began as a small group of 50 people claiming their public park and grew into wider anti-government protests.
Undeniably, increased authoritarian rule of the government and repression of alternative political voices contributed to the rise of the recent protests. Yet, what particularly differentiated the Gezi Park uprisings and mobilized the young dissidents was the silence of the conventional media, which led to the utilization of social media in a variety of roles.
While the conventional media in Turkey lost its critical and objective standing, social media became a crucial source for young Turks to learn breaking and unreported news. This informative role of social media was particularly noticeable when the Gezi Park protests began to grow on Friday, March 31st. While the TV channels opted to remain silent on the growing protests and showed cooking or competitive reality shows instead, social media was full of shared images and posts from the Gezi Park protests (The Occupy Gezi page on Facebook and #direngezi on Twitter were the main information channels of the protests). As people could not watch the protests on television, they became active on these social platforms and tweeted, posted images on Facebook or shared their videos on Youtube in order to inform others and ask for help.
Social media, once more, reminded us how many journalists are among us. As everyone turned their attention to social media, users competed with each other to post their comments and to determine the narrative of the protests, becoming journalists themselves and expressing their grievances in these new platforms.
Given that 70 % of the Turkish population is under 35, Turkey ranked the 4th largest in global usage of Facebookand 8th in use of Twitter (Voice of America, 2011). The large presence of young Turks on social media platforms, which are forums for “personalized communication” and can bring a “connective power to movements” (Bennett et al., 2011), allowed young people to influence and motivate each other.
A second motivating factor was the distribution of photos on social media that demonstrated a disproportional use of force by police. A blog opened for protesters enabled them to report any excessive use of force by police. Photos of their peers resisting water cannons and tear gas on Workers Day (May 1st 2013) and during Gezi Park protests, led young people to take to the streets.
Most individuals who joined the demonstrations were not members of any political or social organization. However, social media allowed these previously non-activist youth to easily connect with each other and learn to organise an uprising. The Occupy Gezi Protest in London, organized by a small group of Turkish youth, was a great example of the speed of social media in creating connections among individuals. In one day, the group’sFacebook page reached 3,653 members encouraging individuals in London to protest in support of those in Turkey.
Within Turkey, dissidents used social media to access information about the current situation in specific areas of the city where protests were planned. Additionally, individuals spread phone numbers of lawyers and doctors available to aid protesters over Facebook, leveraging the power of social media to ensure the safety of the protesters.
Social media spread news of the protests internationally and was used by Turkish individuals abroad to organize events in their own country in support of protesters. International interest in the events in Turkey is also demonstrated by the international media reports of the protests, notable in light of the silence within conventional Turkish media. For example, one of the most popular videos of the protests came from the BBC.
Although it would be a mistake to claim that social media have completely replaced the role of conventional media, the Gezi Park protests once again demonstrated the growing importance of social media in politics and its potential for awakening and unifying a young population. In a speech on the Gezi Parkı protests, Erdogan said: “Social media is the worst menace to society’. As networked movements spread all around the world and topple governments, one might question whether it is a menace to society or to authorities.
Amani, A, 2012, “Turkey’s Democratic Short Fall: Is Prime Minister Erdoğan the Main Problem?”, OpenDemocracy, viewed in: 02.06.2013, Available at: http://www.opendemocracy.net/aslan-amani/turkeys-democratic-shortfall-is-prime-minister-erdogan-main-problem
Bennet, L, Segerberg, A, 2013, The Logic of Connective Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Jones, D, 2012, Turkey Embraces Social Media, Voice of America, 26 April, viewed in: 02.03.2012, Available at:http://www.voanews.com/content/turkey-embraces-social-media-149236475/370184.html
Pfannkuch, K, 2013, “Turkey’s Apolitical Generation”, Your Middle East, 29 April, viewed in:02.06.2013, Available at: http://www.yourmiddleeast.com/features/turkeys-apolitical-generation_13834
Papacharissi, Z, Oliveira, M, 2011, The Rythme of News Storytelling on Twitter, World Association for Public Opinion Research Conference, September, Amsterdam