Facebook owns WhatsApp and Instagram. Twitter is owned by Twitter. These are the social media platforms that I have used, watched and studied since early 2015. I have had some success with all of these in promoting concerts and musicians.
Equally I have watched how these social media platforms operate. I have watched how hate festers on every one of these platforms, fuelled by anonymous accounts, algorithms and lately furthered by people’s fear and uncertainty around Covid-19. Twitter has taken some steps to try to address this but for as long as anonymous accounts can remain on these platforms, it appears to me that this hate fuelling will continue. Indeed on Facebook in particular, I believe it to be a deliberate policy that plays into the hands of advertisers, political parties, conspiracy theorists, and extremists.
I don’t agree with the steps taken by these platforms to remove content that is contrary to advice on Covid-19. Freedom of Speech was fought for – it’s an important part of any functioning society. I think making it impossible to set up an anonymous account should be the first step in managing posts on the platforms. Tightening the law around defamation and incitement to hatred on social media would be another positive step. But removing posts that are contrary to official advice on Covid-19 makes no sense to me. We are all capable of doing our own research and in fact we have a responsibility to do so.
Social media can be alluring and intoxicating. I believe you, I believe her, I believe him are all things you hear on social media. They believe me, she believes me, he believes me are reassuring statements leading to a false sense of community. Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. Come with me and wear a mask. Protest with me, don’t wear a mask. None of this has any relationship with truth. I know this from my own experiences with social media. I learnt from my own mistakes. I can take any case I actively believe in to social media , be it homelessness, poverty, racism , homophobia, sexism, Covid-19, I will find a friend there who will agree with me, who will support me, who will believe me. Except social media is not my friend. And the people who tell me they believe me could have all sorts of reasons for doing so. They may believe me or maybe they see a weakness in my beliefs that they can use for their own gain. Truth it is not.
I began to watch things even more closely when I became aware of the existence of the rise of far right, extremist, racist, homophobic groups in Ireland, some of whom promise freedom for their followers under the guise of patriotism. Patriotism appears to a be a recurring theme for these groups with no acknowledgement of the war in Northern Ireland nor the steps Ireland took to achieve peace. I particularly looked at the Roderic O’Gorman smear campaign, how it began and from where it originated. It originated on Twitter and it highlighted to me how easy it was to take a very important cause (in this case, the sexual education of children in our schools) and how easy it was to mis-use it.
I do not know Roderic O’Gorman nor do I support The Green Party. All I know of him is that he was made Minister for Children and is a married openly gay man. When I looked at the Green Party’s manifesto, it is clear that they agree with allowing children to make decisions around their gender, with parental consent. But they are not the only party to share this view and the curriculum in the schools was in place before Roderic O’Gorman took office.
A photo emerged of Roderic O’Gorman in the company of Peter Tatchell, an apparently ‘renowned’ LGBT campaigner. The photo was a few years old and had been taken at a Pride rally. Several anonymous accounts pounced on this photo and it very soon trended on Twitter. Something that is actually quite easy to do if you have enough accounts, (especially anonymous accounts) willing to keep tweeting about it. Calls were made for the resignation of Roderic O’Gorman because he was a paedophile sympathiser. The evidence was this photo with Peter Tatchell who based on my research, appears to be a very evil man and a paedophile sympathiser. Roderic O’Gorman maintained no knowledge of these comments, distanced himself from these comments, and said that other than this photo he had no relationship with Peter Tatchell.
What happened after this , is really when extremist parties can come into their own. Suddenly if you supported Roderic O’Gorman and believed his statement, you were a paedophile sympathiser and were not concerned for the safety of Ireland’s children. During this time one particular organisation released a statement stating that a gay man should not have responsibility for the Nation’s children because gay people actively choose not to have children. The party line then became, we are activists fighting for the protection of our children in schools, are you saying we are homophobic? And it seemed to work, it was widely shared by parents concerned about the sexual education of their children in schools, and the sharing included sharing a video from Irish actor, John Connors. It should have been apparent to anybody watching that video that the man was in severe mental distress. But it didn’t seem to matter, it was widely shared. An extra voice at the march that then took place. John Connors subsequently apologised, it looked to me like a forced apology due to the threat of a defamation suit, but his comment about being used, was very true. He was used just as much as the protection of children in our schools, was used. Presumably the end result of more publicity for invested groups worked. And the social media platforms facilitated the means to do that.
A video appeared during this time about Covid. An extremely respected UCD professor, Dolores Cahill released a statement that could jeopardise her career as a professor. It fed into the censorship steps taken by social media platforms, in that it was removed several times and then put up again several times, thereby increasing interest in it. She did several interviews on it, mostly with organisations who were aligned with her views anyway. Several of the scientific statements in her video were proven to be false. But was it intoxicating and alluring? An Irish scientist debunking the narrative around Covid-19 in the middle of a lockdown? Who wouldn’t want to believe it? And even better she is the chair of a ‘political’ party to bring it to a wider audience along with any viewer who aligns themselves with her, and either promotes or votes for her party at the next election. And the social media platforms facilitated the means to do that.
In Ireland at the moment, there is a wilful and deliberate attempt to use social media to attract people to far right agendas by actively finding causes that have been desperately seeking a political voice and twisting them. It appears to be working – conspiracy theories are thriving on social media as is evidenced by the frantic, frenzied, and often unresearched posting and by the crowds that turned up at the Custom House in Dublin last weekend. It is a tactic also used by Donald Trump’s team. The beer halls of Munich in the 1930s were what Hitler used but the same principles apply here.
Many of the people aligning themselves with these conspiracy theories appear to be people who have dedicated their lives to holistic healing. Debunking the conspiracy theories does not seem to make any difference to their blind belief in them no more than warning them about far right vulture groups does.
Nobody fully understands Covid, some measures taken by Government are right and some are wrong. As Irish citizens, we have a right to protest and a right to challenge government decisions or actions we disagree with. My question to those social media warriors furthering conspiracy theories on social media, and willingly getting into bed with far right groups to further them is – where were you on any march about homelessness over the last few years? Where were you when it came to criticising direct provision? Where were you? Because I didn’t see you until Covid effected your income stream.
Conspiracy theories are not truth. They are not holistic. They do not heal. But they are being used by far right groups with anti-immigration, homophopic and racist agendas and they are using social media to reel in anyone supporting these theories. To find truth on social media, you really have to dig deep, you really have to research sources and you really have to be prepared to accept that lies are festering on all social media platforms.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (or women) to do nothing” Edmund Burke