PSNIRA vs. peaceful protesters? YouTube, sousveillance and the policing of the union flag protests
The decision to change the flag protocol at Belfast City Hall prompted a campaign of loyalist flag protests across Northern Ireland between December 2012 and March 2013. Although most passed off without incident, a small number ended in violent clashes between loyalists and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Activists uploaded footage to YouTube purporting to show ‘heavy-handed’ policing during these incidents. This paper uses a thematic analysis to examine 1,586 comments left by those who viewed 36 ‘sousveillance’ videos. Results indicate that these conformed to and reinforced competing narratives on policing within the deeply divided society. Those who perceived the ‘PSNIRA’ as being complicit in Sinn Fein’s ‘culture war’ against loyalists were likely to believe the claims of the protesters, even in the absence of corroborative evidence in these videos. The same was true for critics of the protests watching footage of loyalists threatening PSNI officers.