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Background

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 forces Johnson to seek an extension to Article 50, if he can’t reach a deal with the EU by October 19.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson and his supporters didn’t take kindly to this legislation, nicknaming it the Surrender Act. Johnson’s reasoning: the Act ‘undermined’ his negotiating power with the EU.

The term immediately became a trending hashtag on Twitter. But who exactly was tweeting it? …


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There’s something funny about the prime minister’s Facebook page.

In response to every post, especially those about Brexit, there are hundreds of responses. Now this isn’t unusual for the page of a public figure, but the responses didn’t quite ring true.

They are all very similar; short utterances of praise for Boris Johnson, repeating words and phrases such as ‘brilliant’, ‘fantastic’, and ‘support Boris 100%’. Each comment is festooned with Facebook’s like emojis, mainly representing ‘like’, ‘love’ and ‘laugh’.

This behaviour feels odd. I’m not denying the possibility that genuine people support Boris Johnson, but it’s suspicious for so many to consistently comment on his posts in this distinctive and repetitive fashion. …


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High political stakes

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 protect the country from the potential catastrophe that may result from leaving without a deal. …


I always had the good fortune of being born into a stable Western democracy. All my life, I was confident that my government would always safeguard the best interests of the people and the country. There was no question about it; that was just what democracies did.

Armed with all that confidence and a strong passport, I packed my bags and set off around the world. I spent many years in China, where the impenetrable government was a mysterious force and no-one dared mention what happened in Tiananmen Square. I arrived in Qatar at the beginning of the Arab Spring. There I watched from a peaceful vantage point while other countries in the region burned. From afar, I saw the fall of Libya and the chaos in Syria. I wandered the streets of Istanbul and smelt the acrid reek of teargas in shop doorways. I saw dark and menacing gangs of TOMA massing on the horizon. I once ran through the back streets of that city as protesters blocked my usual route home. That night, people torched cars and fought with the police just yards from my front door. But I was only an onlooker, and I always had a safe place to flee to. After all, I was British and I held a British passport. …


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On Twitter this summer, someone suggested that academics should not use social media. He cited reasons such as distractions, narcissism, and the ‘risk of getting trolled’, among others.


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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 polarised and tribal online environment.

In his original Fast Company article,‘The Brand Called You’, author Tom Peters urges his readers to develop their personal brands by delivering talks and developing word-of-mouth marketing around their unique skills. He briefly mentions the importance of showing familiarity with new technology (such as email), but as a rather minor consideration. …


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With all the buzz lately about Twitter bots, I thought it might be fun to make one in Python. Here’s the code for a Twitter bot called @russia_pics. It grabs images of Russia from online sources and tweets them out at regular 10-second intervals. You know, just for laughs.

I chose the Python library Beautiful Soup for the image scraping task, as it’s pretty easy to use (it can scrape from both HTML and XML) and has extensive documentation (always good for a noob).

First I imported the necessary libraries, then searched for ‘Russia’ in the image-hosting site Pexels (this should work equally well in Google Images or other sites). …


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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 we need knowledge of existing theory to provide the context necessary for meaningful understanding.

This is especially important in the social and political sciences, where big data researchers seek to understand complex human phenomena such as wars, genocide or racism, using massive computational datasets. …


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ISIS is becoming old news these days. Recent coverage of the group mainly 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 of its former potency. …


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“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 political change. Although the role of Islamophobia in the media has been explored in depth, less research has been done into social media, especially the role of social media images. These images are highly susceptible to manipulation when taken out of context, or attached to wholly fake news. …

About

Samantha North

Data science. Misinformation. Tribalism. PhD in progress. http://samanthanorth.com

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