How I stayed productive and upbeat during Week 1 of coronavirus lockdown

March 29, 2020

When the UK coronavirus lockdown was first announced, I thought life was going to become a nightmare. I panicked inside at the thought of being confined to my apartment all day, every day. I didn’t know how I could stay productive and maintain a good mood when forced into my… Read more

Tribalism in the time of coronavirus

March 22, 2020

As I write this, the world has descended into a major crisis, with effects more far-reaching than anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime. A powerful virus has swept onto the scene and is now ripping its way through the world. Barely any country has been spared. Here in the UK,… Read more

Social Proof and How to Game It

February 16, 2020

Every day, countless online sources compete for our attention. To avoid information overload and possible burnout, it’s essential to zero in on the important parts and sort them into categories that make sense. But how do we know which parts are important? The human brain uses many shortcuts to understand… Read more

Reputation Risk: When Disinformation Attacks Brands

February 10, 2020

We hear a lot about disinformation in politics, but what happens when similar techniques are used to target brands? Coordinated disinformation campaigns can devastate a brand’s reputation. In 2019, 78% of US consumers said that disinformation would cause them to lose trust in a brand (according to research from New Knowledge). As… Read more

5 Ways Our Minds Make Us Susceptible to Online Disinformation

February 3, 2020

In our fast-moving online world, even the most aware of us can be taken in by disinformation. As humans, our minds work in certain ways that can leave us vulnerable to deception – and no-one is immune. Our perceptions are not as reliable as we might like to imagine, and the… Read more

Behind the hashtag: Who’s tweeting about #SurrenderAct ?

September 28, 2019

If you’ve been following the latest news about Brexit, then you’ve probably heard about the so-called ‘Surrender Act’. It’s Boris Johnson’s way of describing the Benn Act, passed by Parliament earlier this month to prevent No-Deal Brexit. This compels Johnson to seek an extension to Article 50 if he can’t… Read more

A tale of two PMs: Facebook, astroturfing, and social proof

September 26, 2019

There’s something odd about the Prime Minister’s Facebook page. Underneath every post, especially those about Brexit, are hundreds of responses. This isn’t unusual for the page of a public figure, but the style of the responses didn’t ring true. They are all very similar; short utterances of praise for Boris… Read more

Brexit influence campaign: #BritainIndependence

September 18, 2019

The atmosphere in Britain is becoming increasingly heated as October 31st inches ever closer. This is the date when the country will leave the European Union — if all goes to plan for Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party. Right now the political stakes are higher than ever. Parliament has tried to… Read more

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