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Moderation in all things… January 3, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

There’s an interesting piece by TJ McIntyre of the UCD School of Law, and chair of Digital Rights Ireland, which on foot of the very sad death of Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee engages with the issue of social media. I’ll be discussing this in much greater detail at some other point, but it’s worth noting that he considers instances where ‘real name’ laws have been introduced, such as South Korea in 2007, a move of such utter uselessness that it was overturned by the Constitutional Court and is now abandoned. He makes another crucial point, though:

It also doesn’t help that Irish politicians have yet to come to terms with how social media amplifies public opinion, debate and interaction, so that they can sometimes experience the active citizenry which it enables as a relentless flow of criticism.

These, however, are overwhelmingly issues of manners and social norms -– not matters for legislation. The few cases which are genuinely defamatory or criminal can be referred to the legal process, but the remainder are best dealt with by continued conversation, education and self-moderation by online communities.

Those of us who have watched the use and abuse of social media by politicians and political parties over the past decade will find it perhaps just a little difficult to accept the sudden ordure poured upon that quarter. For a start few politicians have been shy about acquiring Facebook and Twitter accounts. Some, ironically or not the names that spring to mind are members of government parties, made quite a career during the last few years of releasing every last thought they had on the policies of the previous administration and they didn’t hold back. The fairly absurd enthusiasm, and over enthusiasm, of politicians in the last six or so years for social media, was almost inevitably going to result in a back lash of some degree once things turned nasty. And nasty they turned, or perhaps more accurately always were.

Is twitter a bear pit? It certainly is. Facebook? Perhaps not quite to the same extent. Blogs? Probably a little less again. Is there anything that can be done about this? Probably not. Short of light-touch but rigorous moderation, as on this site, a varied range of opinions will be expressed (look at the Guardian website for evidence of same, though it has to be said the Irish Times comments are no advertisement for the level of debate on this island, though some would say that is precisely how it should be). But to read reports one would think this was something entirely new – a factor which was previously unknown or unheard of.

I find that odd, very odd indeed. Every day TDs and other elected representatives interact on telephones and in doing so receive calls from callers ranging the spectrum from cordial to wildly belligerent. This I know from direct experience of looking after a TD’s phone calls for a prolonged period some years back.

The idea that social media are somehow in and of themselves more appalling or hurtful than some of the calls I (and many others) fielded seems very very difficult to accept – and whether they are more immediate is open to question. Moreover the obvious step, and one which is taken by many TDs and reps (and in a sense is taken here), is to have others filter them. Why get involved directly unless it is absolutely necessary to? And similarly on this site when the noise to signal ration is too great we pull the plug.

Eamon Ryan, oddly enough, made a couple of good points, not least being that it was far far too early to take any political or legislative actions in the context of the death of McEntee, but also that “There are huge issues around the ethics of communicating online that we cannot easily change by legislation”. Obvious, sure. But true.


1. itsapoeticalworld - January 3, 2013

Interesting view from TJ McIntyre. Where can the article be read ?

In the current frenzy over social media, the press and politicians are feeding each other without any attention to fact. But if you look at the role of Tom Hayes TD in this, it is not only directed at Social Media. Hayes threatened to call in Joe Duffy, Pat Kenny, and other “opinion formers” to discuss “balance” in news and current affairs coverage which Hayes thinks is “too negative.” His vehicle in this is the Oireachtas Committee on Transportation and Communications, which previously dealt with infrastructure, not journalism. He now proposes a session on Social Media – part of which will be held in private.
And there is still no evidence that any of the recent deaths by suicide were “caused by social media.” Research shows that social media is in fact associated with reduced levels of depression.

By the way, I do not find “twitter a bear pit” – it is a place full of useful news links and delightful and witty persons. If you don’t like’em, blockem. 🙂


doctorfive - January 3, 2013

yeah see here.

Yesterday Harry McGee said “notion of self-policing fanciful.”
Tell that to the press and see what reply you get.


2. steve white - January 3, 2013

where did eamon ryan make the point?, the point I presume is that we don’t know if the whole premise of this story is true or not, none of the papers will actually do any journalism on that just bouncing off the fine gael party rumour


3. WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2013

Unfortunately it’s on the SBP website behind the paywall. It’s pretty good, and so is Adrian Weckler’s piece too. Both are salutary pushbacks against the stuff you refer to steve. And I think you’re spot on, it’s notable by the lack of actual journalism

IAPW, you’re right, twitter is not a bear pit and I overegged that pudding, I guess more accurately it can be a bear pit on occasions. A small but important distinction.


4. ivorthorne - January 3, 2013

I’ve been pretty annoyed by the commentary around the McEntee death. The same is largely true of the commentary around the recent teen suicides that were linked to social media. The journalists involved have focused on accidental rather than incidental features of the stories and the form of the behaviours rather than the functions.

We live in a world where bullying is rewarded. Some of the same people who applaud Gordan Ramsey and Bill Cullen for bullying underlings are the first to complain about online comments. Why is it okay to mock and bully people on the X-Factor or You’re a Star but not to criticise a politician harshly online?

Personally, I didn’t read any criticism – harsh or otherwise – of McEntee. I only heard about his comments after his death. Even in that context, his comments angered me. I know of parents of children with special needs who had to make choices this Christmas between buying nappies and presents for their children for their children. Telling them to “get on with it” was pretty callous. The backlash was predictable, but it was the kind of backlash that most politicians have had to deal with at some point. The old and new media coverage of his comments may have been the trigger for his suicide, but it is highly unlikely that they were the main cause.

What’s worst about the coverage is the fact that nobody has bothered to link it to the cuts to mental health services. The links between the teen suicides and the removal of school guidance counsellers or the lack of provision for direct intervention by psychologists in schools, are ignored and instead people complain about twitter, facebook and bloggers.


ejh - January 3, 2013

We live in a world where bullying is rewarded. Some of the same people who applaud Gordan Ramsey and Bill Cullen for bullying underlings are the first to complain about online comments.

This is a god point, I think. I’ve made a similar one on here about Michael O’Leary, that much of the admiration for him is pure bully-worship, and that it’s a really big theme in contemporary culture. Gordon Ramsay is an especially good example.


WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2013


It’s a cultural trope and as such broadly ignored, or in a sense lauded.


5. ejh - January 3, 2013

The idea that social media are somehow in and of themselves more appalling or hurtful than some of the calls I (and many others) fielded seems very very difficult to accept

I think it’s the greater degree of anonymity. A phone call is not the same as speaking to your face, but it’s still voice-to-voice, you know who they are. Persistent anonymous online abuse is in general much worse. I’ve been on the receiving end.


WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2013

There is that, and I’ve some sense of that dynamic from here and elsewhere. That could grind one down, no doubt about it. Though I would add that anonymous trolling has never had as much impact on me personally as people who I thought I knew and trusted in an online context. That’s given me sleepless nights.

But I would add that I heard seriously abusive telephone comments directed to me and to the given TD – effin’ this, c’in that… and so on. And those doing that would return time and again. There was no defence against it because no one wanted to press charges.


6. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 3, 2013

I don’t approve of picking on partners or children but politicians decide to put themselves in the public eye, many are very well rewarded for it and they show a marked contempt for the views of people outside the rarefied atmosphere of the Dail. I actually think it is a disgrace that after all they have colluded in over the past few years, that the govt (ministers in particular) don’t get more verbal abuse.


7. Blissett - January 3, 2013

Agree with the article, and much of the comments above. I will say thought, that it surprises me quite often when I see people I know to be mannerly reasonable and courteous people, venting spleen on twitter and elsewhere, in a manner they simply would not do to a person in their presence. Indeed I often find myself, more likely to be blunt and rude to people online then in real life, either anonymously or otherwise, even without realising it. For what ever reason people are less likely to be restrained I think.

None of which is any argument for pointless legislation or censorship, I do think the media storm is rather disproportionate (and indeed hypocritical in light of their own role), but just an observation


8. RosencrantzisDead - January 3, 2013

Of course, anonymous abuse is nothing new and may be rather tame in comparison to earlier times:



9. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 3, 2013

I’m actually politer on line than I am in real life. Most people think I’m a right c—.


10. Jack Jameson - January 3, 2013

Apologies if this has been already flagged here.

Johnny Fallon: Social media is not the great evil many politicians try to paint it via @independent_ie http://shar.es/4XINK via @sharethis


11. Forbolg - January 4, 2013

Whilst all forms of censorship are abhorrent and I agree that much of the current old media comment is naive,hysterical or simply hypocritical it is undeniable that there is a peculiarly vicious character to much online discourse particularly on unmoderated sites. It is reminiscent of how some normally civilised people are transformed into the Incredible Hulk when they sit behind the wheel of a car. Perhaps we all have such a tendency to to some degree (except of course contributors to CLR).


12. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 4, 2013

Actually I know think the right to call John Waters a c— should be enshrined in the constitution.


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