Associate Professor Cassandra Sharp from the Faculty of Law Humanities and the Arts is a member of the Legal Intersections Research Centre.  One of her research interests is understanding how individuals experience and articulate fear, anger and critique of law during times of global terror events – within social media. Her latest research project ‘Hashtagging Terror and Hate: Citizen Responses on Social Media’ will use the Christchurch mosque terror event in New Zealand as a case study. The project uses an interdisciplinary methodology approach to analyse people’s attitudes to and expectations of government policies and actions in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks. It is funded by the Global Challenges program.

Q: What are you researching or working on? 

Over the last few years I have been interested in understanding how individuals experience and articulate fear, anger and critique of law during times of global terror events. It is often during these times in the moments following terror attacks that citizens will take to social media to emotionally share their personal responses and articulate ideas about national identity, immigration and race. For 2020, I am leading a team at UOW to develop an interdisciplinary methodology to analyse people’s attitudes to and expectations of government policies and actions in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks.
Our case study is on the terror event that occurred in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March 2019.

Cassandra Sharp NZ 2

With Australia’s geographical proximity to New Zealand, and with the terrorist identified as an Australian citizen, the event sparked significant national interest regarding the impact of culturally motivated terrorism on everyday lives and also regarding the legitimacy of government policy/action during such crises. This project draws upon the multi-disciplinary expertise of the team: (i) data collection (Dr Abbas); (ii) Policy analysis, rhetorical and discourse analysis (A/Prof Sharp); (iii) critical discourse and linguistic analysis (Dr Dreyfus); and (iv) cognitive psychological analysis (Drs Leeson & Woolrych). 

Q: In regards to your field of research what are some of the most innovative or exciting things emerging over the next few years? 

Interestingly, despite the ways that social media has become embedded into most of our everyday social interactions, very little research has historically been conducted to explore how public responses to terror events proliferate and/or resist hate communication and various political discourses. Although we’ve seen recently in the US and the UK the significant use of social media in political campaigning and legitimation, it will be interesting to observe and explore how social media is deployed by both political actors, and the public in Australia in the years to come. Our project seeks to pre-empt this activity by testing the hypothesis that social media platforms facilitate not only public expression of ideas surrounding legality, democracy and freedom of speech, but also provokes and amplifies them. 

Q: In your field of research what are some of the things readers should be cautious of over the next few years? 

We live in a confusing and complicated world that is fuelled by subjective viewpoints proliferating social media platforms. At the same time, current global and political ‘issues’ often provoke in us a desire to comment and informally participate in political life. In combination this makes it extremely difficult for members of the public to filter and sort through ‘truth’, ‘news’ and ‘facts’. As individuals and as a community, we need to be cautious and discerning about what we read, believe and then repeat. Even though it’s hard, our community needs to resist and challenge political leaders who oversimplify issues in order to create division or mobilise hate. 

Q: Where do you believe major opportunities lie for people thinking about future career options? 

Researchers and policy analysts with legal qualifications will always be needed in our society where the legitimacy of law depends on public understanding of the legal system, and a trust in governments and decision-makers to serve our best interests. Having a law degree combined with a degree that encompasses communication, media studies, or cultural studies would be invaluable in a society that is increasingly globalised and technology driven.  

Q: What is the best piece of advice you could offer to our readers?  

We are all hearing of the addictive qualities of engaging with social media platforms, but the literature is also describing the importance of discernment when reading social media and in turn, when posting. Too often spontaneous responses to news articles or media ‘events’ are posted without due diligence in ascertaining more information, or alternative views. It is really important to strike a balance between feeling comfortable and free to express personal views on these platforms in response to events, but also to not simply take every reported item at face value.