How personal branding paved the way for post-truth

October 24, 2018

Over a decade ago, an idea was born that seemed innocent at the time, even ground-breaking. It was the idea of personal branding; marketing one’s own skills like a product. In this piece, I’m going to reflect on how the personal branding mindset has played a role in creating today’s… Read more

Tweeting my way into academia

September 18, 2018

On Twitter not long ago, someone suggested that academics should avoid using social media. He cited reasons such as distractions, narcissism, and ‘the risk of getting trolled’. I’m studying social media for my PhD and so I’m well aware of its flaws. But, like any tool, when used in the… Read more

Why I’m taking a ‘data-driven science’ approach to research

August 24, 2018

In the age of big data, many new debates have emerged about the ‘best’ approach to research. Some scholars argue there’s no longer any real need for theory, and claim that we should allow the ‘data to speak for themselves’. Others argue that all data carries inherent bias. That means… Read more

Imagined communities: The alt-left on Twitter

January 16, 2018

In January, I joined a team of researchers in Amsterdam to explore the online communities of ‘Alt-left’ and ‘Antifa’ using data from Twitter and Reddit. This was one of many projects all taking place as part of the Digital Methods Initiative Winter School, organised by the University of Amsterdam. In… Read more

Can ‘Online Surges’ Drive Long Term Attitude Change?

November 27, 2017

It comes as little surprise to learn that today’s wave of anti-Muslim online sentiment is being led by specific Islamophobic organisations, and channelled through public figures such as Tommy Robinson and Pamela Geller. And over the last three years, a spate of incidents tied to Muslim perpetrators, including vehicle attacks… Read more

Disinformation, Influence Ops and the Humble Blog

November 21, 2017

Just a few days ago, Wired Magazine published an article revealing that the ongoing Russian disinformation campaign also involved a number of long form blog posts published on Medium. In this post, I want to talk about why this seemingly new move from Russian info ops is actually not surprising… Read more

Finding links between ISIS, online disinformation and Islamophobia

October 13, 2017

I’m very interested in looking for links between the 2014 emergence of Isis and the disinformation campaigns currently plaguing social media. Both aim to poison public perceptions of Muslims. Could sentiment analysis help to draw the link between the two? The process could begin by mapping the sentiment in relation… Read more

Google search data Islamophobia

Can Google search data help solve Islamophobia?

July 12, 2017

For decades, social scientists have conducted research using some combination of surveys, census data, focus groups, interviews, and observation techniques. With the exception of covert observation, which brings its own ethical issues, these methods have something in common: the dishonesty of people. These methods are all subject to human lies… Read more

Reflections: Terrorism and Social Media Conference 2017

July 1, 2017

Last week, in a sleepy Welsh city by the sea, a group of social media and terrorism researchers came together to discuss the latest challenges in the field. I learned a lot, met people doing admirable work and came away inspired with ideas to shape my own research in the… Read more

Troll farms and terrorism

June 9, 2017

In the wake of the Manchester attack, I noticed many angry, hateful and Islamophobic comments on Facebook. Many came from profiles that didn’t look human. On closer examination these profiles seemed designed to spew hate speech, mainly about Islam and Muslims. Once set up, the owners of these profiles insert… Read more

Who’s winning on the digital battlefield?

May 7, 2017

On the eve of the French presidential elections, there’s a sudden flurry of activity on social media. A candidate’s name – #Macron – is trending on Twitter. So what’s the news? A large stash of Emmanuel Macron’s private emails have been hacked and leaked online. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s… Read more

Images of Islam: How fake news drives public opinion about Muslims

April 29, 2017

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” – George Orwell Through misinformation to political change Misinformation about Muslims (including refugees, immigrants and ordinary citizens) has been used to construct harmful narratives, reinforce existing Islamophobia and, arguably, create a fertile environment for enacting profound social and… Read more

Bored of selective outrage

March 19, 2017

When I first heard the news about yesterday’s incident at Orly Airport in Paris, my first thought was ‘I hope he’s not Muslim’. I’m not Muslim. So why do I care? Because I’m bored of the constant stream of outrage. I dislike how people on Twitter and Facebook revel in… Read more

Inciting the Interwebs: A short history of ISIS propaganda

March 5, 2017

ISIS is becoming old news these days. Recent coverage of the group talks about reclaiming its territory, freeing its captives, or the implications of its dwindling supply of funds. One gets the impression that the group’s very survival is now on the line. To an extent, ISIS has lost some… Read more

Book review: Islamic State, the Digital Caliphate

February 19, 2017

The digital world has been a central feature of the Islamic State’s rise to power, driving much of its recruitment as well as building and maintaining its fearsome image. But the strategy behind the mastery has remained mysterious. Islamic State (ISIS) keeps its operations hidden, to leverage the power of… Read more

Shifting realities: The art of propaganda

February 5, 2017

“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” – Noam Chomsky Edward Bernays, who some call the ‘father of propaganda’, had an approach to PR that was ground-breaking in his time. He didn’t just try to push the features of a product or an idea,… Read more

From mosques to swastikas: Images of terrorism

February 3, 2017

In November 2016 the terrorist Thomas Mair was sentenced to life in prison for the politically-motivated murder of Jo Cox, MP. Many news outlets featuring headlines about the verdict chose to place quote marks around the word ‘terrorist’. Other terms used in the media to describe Mair included ‘deranged white… Read more

Fearful milieux: Perceptions of Islam in an age of Trump

January 30, 2017

Muslims living and working in the United States are being forced to reconsider their futures in light of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, announced this week. Citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Somalia will be denied entry for 90 days while the new Trump administration… Read more

Arabic update, two classes later

January 26, 2017

It’s been a week now since I started my course in Syrian Arabic on Italki. At first I was sceptical about learning with an online tutor, but after just two classes I’m convinced it’s an excellent method. I’ve learned more vocabulary and grammar than I did in attending 10 weeks… Read more

Ranking CVE effectiveness around the world

January 17, 2017

Ranking countries and cities on their various merits is a familiar concept to practitioners of place branding. Can this approach be used to rank the effectiveness of global CVE efforts? Many rankings have been created assessing everything from a nation’s dollar brand value to the level of good deeds it… Read more

Nuanced communities: Mapping ISIS support on Twitter

January 17, 2017

As every content marketer knows, creating resonant narratives requires intimate knowledge of the audience in question. Nowhere is this more true than in attempts to counter the potent messaging of ISIS. The terrorist group is infamous for its ability to attract recruits from across the world to commit violence in… Read more

Book review: Propaganda and Counter-terrorism

January 15, 2017

First published in 2015, Emma Briant’s book Propaganda and Counter-terrorism has gained relevance in recent months, as the world comes to terms with the power of propaganda to propel dramatic social and political changes. At the time of writing, there are just days left before Donald Trump enters the White House,… Read more

Tackling Levantine Arabic

January 14, 2017

New challenge for 2017: Arabic! Today I’ve scheduled two trial Arabic lessons on Skype, with teachers I found using the iTalki website. The classes are going to focus on the Levantine dialect, which I feel would be the most useful for the work I eventually hope to do. I’m still… Read more

Istanbul: Next target in ISIS narrative

January 2, 2017

The Reina nightclub shooting, which killed 39 and injured over 40 during the early hours of New Year’s Day, is the first attack on civilians in Turkey that ISIS has officially claimed. The gunman remains on the run at the time of writing. Mass attacks on civilians have become an… Read more

Retrospective on loss

December 29, 2016

“What’s past is prologue.”  – William Shakespeare, The Tempest It was a strangely warm winter’s day while reflecting on the cold, dismal year just past. In a year bookended by this city, the enjoyment of being here can’t quite blot out memories of what happened in the middle. Loss has… Read more

After Berlin, can Germany resist hate?

December 22, 2016

In Berlin just before Christmas, twelve people were killed and dozens injured in another terrorist attack. The attacker drove a truck into a busy Christmas market, targeting shoppers and bystanders, ploughing his hijacked vehicle into the crowds in much the same way as the Bastille Day attack in Nice. ISIS… Read more

Fake armies: A field guide to astroturfing

December 10, 2016

“There are invisible rulers who control the destinies of millions.” ― Edward L. Bernays It sounds so Orwellian; the world’s opinions shaped by vast armies of bots, or by paid groups of teenagers in Macedonia. But far from being a 1984 nightmare come to life, this scenario has become reality;… Read more