Social Media as a tool for addressing the ‘Societal Shrug’ existing in relation to Paramilitary-Style Attacks on Young People in Northern Ireland.

Dr Faith Gordon1, Dr  Paul Reilly2

1Monash University, Melbourne, Australia ,

2University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom

Two decades after the Good Friday Agreement, paramilitary violence against children and young people remains endemic within working-class loyalist and republican communities. Paramilitary-style attacks (PSAs) leave young people with a host of life-changing physical injuries, as well as long term psychological trauma. This paper sets out to explore the efficacy of public awareness campaigns, which utilise social media and are designed to highlight these negative impacts upon victims and challenge the views of citizens who justify or defend these actions. This paper will review the literature on PSAs and providing an overview of the two most prominent advocacy campaigns to date, namely Stop Attacks and Ending the Harm. One particular focus is the extent to which social media platforms raise awareness of PSAs amongst young people, who are the often the victims of these attacks. These issues are explored through a thematic analysis of interviews (N=10) conducted with key stakeholders from both including as the Department of Justice (Northern Ireland), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and restorative justice organisations such as NI Alternatives. Findings illustrate that there was much enthusiasm for the use of social media in raising awareness of this issue, particularly amongst those loyalist and republican communities that continue to distrust the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Snapchat in particular was considered an effective tool for digital storytelling campaigns that challenged the views of citizens who believed that the victims ‘must have done something’ to deserve PSAs.


Dr Faith Gordon is a Lecturer in Criminology at Monash University; Director of the Interdisciplinary International Youth Justice Network; Research Associate at the Information Law & Policy Centre, London and Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster. Dr Gordon has developed an international scholarly and advocacy reputation in the area of the rights of children in conflict with the law and specifically in the dynamics of youth justice, the media’s treatment of youth, young people’s engagement with the media, policing and legal responses, especially in transitional societies. Dr Gordon’s research was referenced by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, at the examination of the UK Government’s child rights record (2015); in Judicial Review hearings at the Northern Ireland High Court (2016; 2017) and recently, in the UK Court of Appeal (2019).

Dr Paul Reilly is a Senior Lecturer in Social Media & Digital Society in the Information School at the University of Sheffield.  Dr Reilly’s PhD focused on the ways in which loyalist and republican groups used their websites to frame the Northern Irish peace process. His research focuses on the study of online political communication, with a focus on three key areas: (1) the use of social media by citizens to create and share acts of sousveillance; (2) the ways in which digital media can be used to crowdsource crisis information; and (3) the use of new media to reduce sectarian tensions and promote better community relations in divided societies such as Northern Ireland.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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