Ben O'Loughlin, Cristian Vaccari, Billur Aslan and James Dennis have published a new article in Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, Twitter and Global Political Crises: Cycles of Insecurity in #PrayforParis and #PrayforSyria. In the days and weeks after the Paris attacks in November 2015, the authors expected to find Twitter debates containing these hashtags to see users conflating migration, terrorism and social media in apportioning blame either for the attacks or for how users responded to the attacks. Instead of antagonism, however, we found high degrees of civility and agonistic exchanges of substantive claims and counter-claims.
We hope you will enjoy the article. If you cannot access it directly, email Ben.OLoughlin@rhul.ac.uk for a copy.
This study examines social media responses to the 13 November 2015 Paris attacks by the Islamic State. First impressions of over 2,000,000 tweets containing hashtags #PrayforParis and #PrayforSyria suggested a conflation of three issues: (1) Migration: were the attackers homegrown or carrying overseas passports? (2) Violence: why was Paris attacked and why is France bombing the Islamic State? (3) Media: what role should mainstream and social media play during events that are local and global, unique and yet part of a series? However, instead of conflating media, migration and terrorism, we found users of both hashtags discussing Syria, foreign policy, and justice and fairness. Building on previous research exploring how social media affordances encourage certain communication behaviors, we test whether Twitter’s reply function is more conducive to antagonistic comments than retweets, which we hypothesise allow for an expression of solidarity and universalism. Conversations about Syria contain greater antagonism, explained by aspects of the tweet, user and network effects. The #PrayforParis and #PrayforSyria conversations exhibit neither the contestation of global attention nor a media-driven cycle of insecurity. The high frequency of agonistic and non-visual tweets, particularly about Syria, suggests a robust exchange of claims, refuting pessimistic depictions of Twitter as a space for superficiality and hate.
Thank you to Dina Matar of SOAS for convening the journal's special issue on Communication and Conflict. We would like to thank Marie Gillespie for her help theorising cycles of insecurity, and Deen Freelon for the use of ReCal.