Twitter and global political crises: cycles of insecurity in #PrayforParis and #PrayforSyria

Ben O'Loughlin, Cristian Vaccari, Billur Aslan Ozgul, James Dennis

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-203
Number of pages28
JournalMiddle East Journal of Culture and Communication
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2017


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