Study analyses the role of Twitter in protest movements

2011 has been a year dominated by public protests, from the Arab Spring to the international Occupy movement and anti-governmental demonstrations in Eurozone countries. So much so that TIME magazine this month named their Person of the Year as ‘The Protestor’.

Over the same period Twitter has rapidly expanded, hitting the milestone of 100 million active users in September 2011. Now an Oxford-led team has studied for the first time the role of the social medium in protests.

Dr Sandra González-Bailon, from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), worked with researchers from the University of Zaragoza, Spain, to analyse Twitter’s part in the Spanish protests for governmental reform in May of this year.

The study, which Dr González-Bailon called “the first empirical study analysing the mechanisms behind protest recruitment by means of online networks”, analysed almost 600,000 tweets posted by almost 90,000 users over a 30-day period. The researchers concluded that tweets had two main roles in the protests.

Firstly, ‘random seeding’ took place, in which initial activity is produced by early participants. Subsequently, other users, known as ‘spreaders’, used their wide connections to reach millions of other Twitter users.

It is thought that the ‘spreaders’ are critical in the mass diffusion of plans for protests amongst the online community, rather than the first process of ‘random seeding’. Dr González-Bailon said the research showed that “mass mobilisations depend not on the influence of central users, who are nonetheless crucial for their growth, but on the actions of many users in local networks that will ultimately reach the influential core“.

However, the authors, whose study was published in Scientific Reports, warned that further research was imperative as user demographics and exposure to offline media were not considered in the study.


You can, of course, get the latest news from The Oxford Student on twitter @OxStuNews

Oxford Bag Back-to-Back Varsity Victories

A dominant second half performance ensured that Oxford retained their Varsity Rugby Crown for the first time in more than a decade. Tries from Will Kane, Tom Mitchell and man-of-the-match Karl Outen secured a 28-10 victory – the Dark Blues’ largest since 1988.

With the stadium filling up – a remarkable crowd of 27,255 packed into the lower tier of Twickenham – and the national anthem ringing out the two teams arrived on field. Going into the game as favourites placed the pressure on Oxford, and an early penalty from Cambridge fly-half Steve Townend increased demands even further. But four Minutes later John Carter’s men were ahead; Kane crossed the line following a brilliant steal at the line-out from the talismanic captain himself. A conversion from Cassian Braham Law gave Oxford an early four point advantage.

The following quarter of an hour was scrappy at best with neither side offering much by way of penetration save for a Brahman-Law penalty for offside which extended Oxford’s lead to 7 points.

It was on twenty-two minutes that the games’ major talking points occurred. Tom O’Toole’s kick baffled the Oxford defence and sailed towards the line. A manic chase-down ensued, with Oxford full-back Jon Hudson narrowly beating two attackers to touch down for a five metre scrum. Meanwhile captain Carter lay on the floor awaiting treatment following a punch from the opposite number eight, Dave Allen. The incident eluded referee Dave Pearson who left Oxford fans indignant when he awarded Cambridge a penalty try soon afterwards.

With scores again level the Dark Blues launched persistent attacking was rewarded with a penalty on twenty nine minutes. Again Brahman-Law was on target to give Oxford a three point lead. Carter’s return rallied his side and he was straight in amongst the action, preventing the Light Blues from breaking with a high tackle which led to more fisticuffs between the two teams.

Cambridge squandered two glorious chances to get back into the match but Oxford held took lead into the half-time interval after Townend blazed a penalty wide.

The second half was a different game. A 43rd minute run from Oxford winger Sean Morris, one of the stand-out performers, took the ball into the Cambridge half, where it was to remain for the majority of the half. A line-out in the Cambridge twenty-two sparked a drive to the line, leading to a try for man of the match Karl Outen. Although Bramham-Law could have kicked his side further ahead, chances were coming thick and fast for Oxford. Just two minutes after a missed penalty the number eleven slotted home again to but put the game beyond doubt.

The Dark Blues continued to threaten, skewing wide an attempted drop kick. Again a disheartened Cambridge struggled to clear their lines as Greg Cushing’s clearance was run down by Derek Asbun. Carter chose to scrum-down for the subsequent penalty. Oxford’s pack won through and fly-half Mitchell took the ball across the line. Replacement Matt Janney converted to make the scores 28-10.

With ten minutes remaining the game petered out into a string of substitutions. A brief foray into the Oxford twenty-two provided Cambridge with no consolation and by the final whistle the crowd was already shuffling to the exits. A one-sided match left the Dark Blues celebrating their second consecutive Varsity triumph.

It was also Oxford’s second victory on the day as the under 21s ran out 19-11 winners. Tries from Dan Levene, Ben Girling and John Harkness indicated that the Dark Blues have a bright future.


Residents’ concern over Sainsbury’s coming to Summertown

Not content with four stores already in the city centre, Sainsbury’s are about to add their fifth. Due to open in the spring in Summertown, a Sainsbury’s Local will take its place alongside three existing supermarkets on Banbury Road, creating concern among local residents, councillors and business owners.

The supermarket giant will take the vacant Suffolk House site of what used to be both the newsagents Martin’s and wine retailer Oddbins, on the corner of South Parade and Banbury Road, to create one store under their ‘Local’ brand. It will rival Tesco Express, Marks& Spencer and Co-op in the vicinity.

An online petition against the move, which has reached 102 signatures in ten days, has been set up by Frances Kennett, a former Oxford academic who achieved national fame for protesting over fortnightly bin collections in 2007.

The petition reads: “We the undersigned protest at the opening of Sainsbury’s in Summertown: it will be the fourth supermarket within the 100-metre stretch of the local shops. Sainsbury’s are applying for a liquor licence to sell from 7 am to 11 pm. With all the schoolchildren and students in this area, this will be an unwanted and inadvisable increase in alcohol availability in a residential neighbourhood.”

Sainsbury’s are free to lease the site without council approval because the site was formerly used by retail outlets and there is no change of use. It is likely that they will be provided a licence to serve alcohol, which the Martin’s newsagents did not have.

Both Summertown City Councillors Jean Fooks and Stuart McCready are unenthusiastic the move.

McCready said: “I think that three supermarkets are enough and I’d prefer to see development which encourages smaller shops with local character. Co-op, Tesco and M&S aren’t giving us that.

“I’m more in favour of Co-op since it’s been here for longer and served locals for ages but I’d like to see a community planning forum set up which could influence what size developments are in the area and give residents more of a say over neighbourhood planning.”

Jean Fooks said that while she would prefer to see more local independent shops she recognised the reality that many were unable to pay the rent, whereas Sainsbury’s was willing to and provide more jobs in the area.

Sainsbury’s, whose CEO Justin King is a Visiting Fellow of Oxford University’s Centre for Corporate Reputation at the Said Business School, confirmed the stores are due to open in Spring 2012.

Their spokesperson said: “Sainsbury’s is delighted to confirm that we have agreed a lease for the former Oddbins and Martin’s stores to be a Sainsbury’s Local.

“We believe the new convenience shop will be of great benefit to the area, by improving shopping choice and regenerating previously vacant units. The store is due to open in spring 2012.”

Website, which promotes business in the area, said last month: “The feeling among the people of Summertown is that [Sainsbury’s potentially moving in] is something they just do not need.” Previously the website had reported rumours that JJB Sports were considering moving to the site.

However, Somerville student Daniel Purcell commented: “I don’t think it’s that bad an idea. I don’t think that Sainsbury’s are doing anything particularly wrong by setting up a shop there and obviously they think there’s a gap in the market that they can succeed in.”

Mansfield second-year Rosie Chesterton expressed concern that, with greengrocers being squeezed, there could be less local produce on the shelves and added: “A new supermarket could result in competitive prices and lower costs for shoppers but it does seem a shame that independents are not getting a chance.”

Long lost Tolkien letters returned to Oxfordshire library

Deddington Library staff are “thrilled” that two letters addressed to them from J.R.R. Tolkien were unexpectedly restored to the library.

The letters, written in 1956 and thought lost, were returned recently, despite being loaned to Oxfordshire County Council in 2000 for an exhibition on the Inklings Group. The council said it could not clarify why the letters had not been returned at the time but emphasized that they had been “stored safely and in appropriate conditions”.

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and an Oxford professor, was in attendance at the library’s opening in December 1956 as a speaker and guest. However, he did not conduct the opening ceremony – a Mrs Lionel Hichens was the guest of honour as Tolkien’s works had not yet achieved the cult status they enjoy today. Despite this, the library’s link with the author was established and earlier this month, 55 years after the original opening, the local police force were presented with framed archival copies of the letters as they moved into their new home in the library building.

The first letter is an acceptance of Miss Stanley-Smith’s invitation to attend the library opening, in which Tolkien states that “though I dislike talking [in this sense], lecturing or addressing a gathering, I should have been sorry to refuse your invitation”. The second apologizes for the quality of his performance and promises the library a copy of his next work, though Deddington’s shelves contain no such volume.

The letters are currently on display in Deddington Library and will be well protected with the local police station situated in the same building. Current librarian Stella O’Neill said that she is “thrilled to have copies of the letters on display in the library.”

New scholarships “to train future world leaders”

Ten new scholarships will be granted to graduates intending to do the one-year Master of Public Policy degree at Oxford University’s new Blavatnik School of Government.

Enabling around one-third of students in the initial cohort in 2012 to potentially receive full funding, covering tuition fees as well as living costs, with a £47,250 cap, the scholarships will be awarded so that the most able students in the world will have the opportunity to study at the Blavatnik School, without being restrained by their financial circumstances.

Half of the intended scholarships will be funded by the Weidenfeld Scholarships and Leadership Programme and the Chevening Scholarship scheme jointly. The Chevening-Weidenfeld Scholarships will be open to candidates from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, India and Indonesia.

These scholarships are intended to offer future leaders from “transition economies” the opportunity to study public policy at the new institution. Two of the scholarships will be provided by the University of Oxford and the University of Hong Kong for two Hong Kong students each year, funded by Hong Kong philanthropist Walter Kwok Ping Sheung. The Blavatnik School of Government itself will also fund three of the scholarships for successful candidates from any part of the world.

A second-year PPE student was interested by the announcement. She said: “While as an American I’d personally like there to be as many scholarships as I would be eligible for as possible, should I apply. I’m glad to see that they are actively seeking future leaders from transitional economies through the Chevening-Weidenfeld Scholarships. These will help to make the new School of Government truly global. However, I am concerned that much of Africa and all of Latin America has been left out of the targeted scholarships.”

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of the University, stated: “We hope this very generous funding package will attract the world’s very best students to Oxford, where they will be trained as future world leaders.”

The Blavatnik School of Government will begin accepting students in 2012, following a £75 million endowment by American industrialist and philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik. The School is already accepting applications and its initial aim is to admit practitioners and students from all over the globe. The application deadline for the 2012 cohort is 20th January 2012 for the first round of applications and 9th March 2012 for the second round.

The School will teach the practice of government and leadership with a focus on strengthening communities, creating opportunities and fostering international cooperation through various courses, balancing the humanities, social sciences, law, science, technology, health, finance, medicine and ethics.

Oxford is known to provide reasonable postgraduate funding. In the academic year 2010-2011, 31 percent of all new graduate students and 58 percent of new doctoral students received full funding for their courses, whilst an additional 10 percent of all new graduates received partial funding for study costs.

Quarter of physically disabled students are victims of hate crime

Figures recently released by the NUS reveal that nearly one in four physically-impaired students have been a victim of a hate crime.

A survey of over a thousand disabled students revealed that those with visible impairments – such as physical or sensory – were significantly more likely to experience disability related prejudice. 43 percent of the students admitted to changing their appearance or habits in an attempt to avoid hate incidents, often meaning they went out less or attempted to disguise their disability.

80 students reported experiencing at least one hate incident whilst studying at their current institution and a large proportion of those incidents occurred in or around their place of learning. While this number was relatively low, the survey found that these students were more likely to have experienced such behaviour multiple times.

The survey found very few incidents were reported on by the victim. Only one in five students reported the incidents to their university and only 12 percent reported them to the police. However, 66 percent of disabled respondents did not know if their university or college provided information about where victims of hate incidents could go for help and support.

NUS Disabled Students’ Officer Ruby Kaur stated in response to the report: “It’s clear more needs to be done by our universities”.

The survey also revealed that students are very concerned about the possibilities of disability related prejudice. A third of physically impaired students stated they were “fairly worried” about being subject to abuse. Moreover, 43 percent of the respondents who described themselves as having a “health condition, impairment or disability” altered their “behaviour, personal appearance or daily patterns” in order to avoid hate incidents. The report states that those victims who changed their behaviour and habits often became isolated and socially withdrawn. Often they attempted to hide their impairments. One respondent said: “I try not to look as disabled as possible, eg. walking without my crutches.”

However, Mansfield College student Rosie Chesterton, who uses a wheelchair, stated: “I’ve not experienced any hate crimes during my time in Oxford. I have found both students and staff to be very helpful, friendly and inclusive.” She claimed that the college, and university, have been very supportive and that, where necessary, “adjustments to my needs have been made”.

The NUS has made ten recommendations to FE and HE institutions based on the results of the survey, which range from strengthening the existing support services to providing flexible options for students to report hate incidents.

Andrew Dunne, OUSU Students with Disabilities Officer, stated that “OUSU supports the aims of the NUS” and added that “this is not something that has been brought up in any survey targeting those with disabilities. I will however, be carrying out a survey to see if there is an issue early next term.”

The survey results were released on 16th December.

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