Paul Reilly
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PSNIRA vs peaceful protesters?
YouTube, sousveillance and the policing of the flag protests
in Digital contention in a divided society
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In Chapter 4, the focus switches to citizens’ use of social media to document the actions of the PSNI during these demonstrations. The ubiquity of smartphones has provided unprecedented opportunities for citizens to engage in ‘sousveillance’, defined broadly as the “use of technology to access and collect data about their surveillance” (Mann et al., 2003: 333). During the flag protests, loyalists accused the PSNI of engaging in ‘political policing’ and used social media to share evidence corroborating their claims that they had been ‘heavy-handed’ towards the protesters. This chapter presents the first in-depth qualitative analysis of this footage, much of which was uploaded by witnesses to YouTube, presumably with the intention of highlighting the alleged police brutality. It does so by presenting the results of a thematic analysis of 1,586 comments posted in response to 36 videos uploaded to the video-sharing site by loyalists between December 2012 and March 2013. It will explore the extent to which such ‘sousveillance’ footage elicited sympathy for loyalist claims that the PSNI had been heavy-handed, and how the views expressed in these comments sections compared with mainstream media representations of both the protesters and the policing operation.

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Digital contention in a divided society

Social media, parades and protests in Northern Ireland


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