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.

32 black students accepted to Oxford – highest figure in ten years

This year’s acceptance of 32 black students, the highest intake in ten years, has been given a qualified welcome by senior members of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society (ACS).

Acceptance rates of black students are up to 14 percent from 8.8 percent last year, however this still lags behind those of white applicants at 24.1 percent last year. This discrepancy is explained by the university as being due to black students applying disproportionately for the most competitive courses.

Despite the increase, ACS President Gillian Appau said that the university still needs to improve both in terms of the “perception that potential students have of the institution” and the “actual make-up of the student body in terms of the proportion of black students at the university”.

According to a university spokesperson Oxford’s black student intake of 1.3 percent reflects the percentage of black students getting AAA at A-levels.

Appau said: “Oxford University is taking steps to improve the situation, but evidently we are far from reaching the ideal situation where all bright students feel they have an equal opportunity to attend regardless of race or class.”

To improve the situation she suggested “enabling potential applicants from under-represented backgrounds to receive advice from current students of similar background, with whom they can identify and, hopefully, destroy any misconceptions about Oxford”.

OUSU Minority Ethnic Students and Anti-Racism Officer Chidi Onyeche described how the Universities approach to removing misconceptions could be improved, saying: “I think that Oxford, as a whole, is trying to discourage the perceptions of the university being a white middle classed institution but its approach at times can be misguided and limited.”

In particular, she described how access schemes, such as the target schools initiative, are often carried out when perspective students are too young and then “never followed up again”.

Onyeche also noted that Oxford appears to be focused on the success of school visits, but that they base this success on “the number of people that apply after the school visits take place,” instead of “how much closer we come to dismantling the perceptions and myths that surround this university”.

“A child who has learnt about ‘real’ Oxford,” she continued, “even if they are not eligible to apply, and portrays that to the people that they know on the off chance one of those people may have been contemplating apply to Oxbridge then that to me is what can and should be counted as success.”

Vice President of ACS Josh Oware said that the statistics were “unacceptable”, but noted that “this does not mean that Oxford is racist”.

Oware noted that the issue “is not just a black issue, it’s a class issue”.

“Problems of access apply equally to white, black, Asian and other working class or disadvantaged people,” he added.

A recent Oxford graduate Daniel Stone appeared to agree with Oware’s prescription. Stone told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that, when looking at the “overall picture”, “applying to university is too far up the chain. We have to look a bit earlier in terms of the schooling that they are getting”.

Oware argued there are three questions to be considered when looking at acceptance statistics: “a) Are back students achieving top grades? b) Are they applying for Oxford? c) If applying, are they getting in? These figures look at question (c) without considering the roots of acceptance percentages.”

When considering the University’s role in increasing the number of black students Oware said: “positive discrimination to keep the numbers up is the wrong prescription.

“Oxford only has the responsibility to keep the application process fair for all those who apply regardless of ethnic origin, sexuality, gender, ability or background.”

He further noted: “Oxford cannot change the opportunity structures and education standards in the cities, boroughs and schools where black applicants come from. These are deep-rooted, and historic, class issues that society must seek to address. Focusing on percentages reeks of narrow-mindedness and a lack of meaningful interaction with the real problem.”

Downhill all the way?

This year’s Varsity Ski Trip got off to a slightly ‘rocky’ start. Snowfall in Val Thorrens was at a record low and jokes were rife amongst students who were boasting that they hadn’t paid £500 to go on a Varsity Hill walking trip. It was with some nervousness, then, that I boarded a 12:30 am coach on Broad Street to begin the 18-hour trip to the Alps.

Besides the 4 am ferry crossing, and a small boy throwing up into a bag tenuously placed on top of my friend’s coat, it was one of the easiest coach trips of my life (although definitely helped along by a terms worth of sleep to catch up on). As one of the last coaches to arrive in the resort, we were rushed through the planned cheap hypermarket stop at the bottom of the mountain – our coach rep helpfully informs us that “it’s closing in 10 minutes guys so treat this as a kind of supermarket sweep.” Cue hundreds of students flocking to an already dilapidated alcohol aisle, where we were faced with absolutely no vodka to be seen. The cheers amongst our group are near hysterical when a girl comes running with bottles of Bacardi.

We finally get into Val Thorens at around 20:00 – some of the latest – and as I look out of the coach window…there is definitely grass.  It is all made a little bit worse when the equipment shops are not taking any more people as we trek up there, so the more keen amongst us agree to get up super early in order to get a full day’s skiing. We therefore resolve to get an early night and return to our apartment in Temple Du Soleil (a block of self-catered apartments where a large proportion of students end up) and have the first of many pasta-based dinners. The next day we make it out to the slopes with all our equipment early morning, I’ve arrogantly decided to go for a snowboard dismissing the snow as not good enough.

After a morning spent mostly on our bums, my friend and I decided to cut our loses and head down to ‘Varcity,’ the slope hangout for the week. Set up at bar 360 at the bottom of a blue slope, ‘Varcity’ entails an outside seating area and DJ decks. I mistakenly engage in queuing for the ‘free hamburgers’ promised. Not since being at the front of the crowd for Kings of Leon at Reading ’07 have I been in such a mosh pit. Ski helmets, gloves and limbs are everywhere as the queue descends into anarchy and the free burgers are nowhere to be seen. Staff attempt in vain to contain the mass. Slight amusement is provided in the form of some Jack Wills rep, who is on plain view to the queue from the stage area, and despite his best efforts to look cool whilst dancing…doesn’t. When I finally manage to get my hamburger, it proceeds to vomit salad cream all over my clothes (and definitely wasn’t worth the forty minute wait).

Still, at least I’m just in time for the promised entertainment… Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood, who is supposed to kick off the week with a buzzing set. What follows, however, is closer to aural rape than anything else…and not because the music is bad but because this man has one of the filthiest mouths I’ve heard in a long time (including all the talk that I’ve heard on crew dates). Questions such as “Do you like your mum?” and “Is your pussy clean?” lead one of my male friends turns to ask “why is he mentioning clean pussies and mums in the same sentence?” In between dancing we all seem to awkwardly turn to each other in bewilderment at Westwood’s comments, whose other gems included “all the ugly people fuck off” and “girls who brought their boyfriends…you can fuck off.” I can feel myself turning into a prim forty-something mother but Tim Westwood is just plain offensive and sexist…and old enough to be all of our dads. Judging by discussions later on in the day, I’m one of many to feel this way.

The opening night party goes some way to remedying the Westwood blunder – an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed party, with giant plastic bunny rabbits – it’s all very well done and quite overwhelming – particularly after a few drinks at altitude – but DJ Fresh pulls out a good set and most people seem happy. It’s only at the end of the night when the queue for the cloakroom looks to entail just about all 3,000 people on the trip that things go slightly down the rabbit hole – not the happiest forty minutes I’ve ever spent.

Monday passes fairly uneventfully – with a good dumping of snow overnight, the grass is thankfully less visible. I’ve booked into the mountain meal – which is what it says on the ticket, a meal at a slope-based restaurant and a torchlight descent. We are again all faced by a lengthy queue in the freezing cold before we manage to get into the restaurant. It takes a long while for all the food to arrive but luckily a large amount of wine is provided: “just drink” suggests one of the staff when we ask where the food is – probably hoping that we’ll all be too drunk to notice when it does arrive. Some of my friends try cooking the meat (for a meat fondue) on the naked flame of the cooker placed on our table but un-surprisingly inform us that it tastes quite ‘bad’. The cooking pot for the meat eventually arrives, but we unfortunately have a slight mishap with our set, which involves it basically setting on fire and a waiter hurriedly running out of the restaurant to throw it in the snow. At the end of the meal we are faced with the ‘torchlight descent’ which involves getting your skis back on and a few people in your group being given flaming torches (sticks with alight cotton wool on the end) and skiing down a blue slope to the bottom – we are luckily all too merry to realize the disastrous prospect of skiing with fire and happily we all manage it down the slope in one piece.

The rest of the week passes relatively quickly, interrupted with visits to the large underground nightclub ‘Malaysia’, which hosts many of the Varsity nights out. Skiing conditions improve immensely on the Thursday, which is also the final night party. It is themed ‘Radioactive’ and we are all given boiler suits to wear over our clothes. They manage to look equally unflattering on everyone, but again, a few après ski drinks sort out any vanity issues I had. The final night lineup is Ms. Dynamite and Basement Jaxx – and of course a thousand or so people in boiler suits. We arrive at 11pm – but like all Oxford nights out, quickly discover we should have come earlier – Ms. Dynamite has been and gone and Basement Jaxx are well into their set. The night seems to go well and luckily all coatroom nightmares seen on the first night seem to have been remedied.

Then somehow it’s Friday and I find myself trudging my skis back to the rental shop and getting on the coach to face the nearly twenty hour ride back. We arrive at the London stop ‘Hatton Cross’ (near Heathrow) at 14:00 the next day and I get on the tube along with many other bleary eyed students to the prospect of home and hopefully a meal that doesn’t involve either pasta or bread.

As a first-time Varsityer and in spite of a few glitches, I had one of the best weeks I’ve had at my time at Oxford (albeit this was in the French Alps). One of my friends is calling it “the best week of my life” – and whilst I’m not sure I’d go that far; the opportunity to hang out with my friends (and make new ones) in a setting so removed from the dreaming spires is literally a breath of fresh air. The skiing wasn’t the greatest – but the strength of the trip is that it doesn’t entirely rely on the snow. The presence of ‘the other place’ on the slopes also adds to the atmosphere, although there is far less light vs dark blue ‘banter’ than I’d expected. In conclusion, I’d definitely go again, although I might avoid the fire plagued mountain meal next time…and almost definitely Tim Westwood.

PHOTO/ Andrew Campbell-Black

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