Early on in the module, we discussed the Arab Spring as a model and measure of social media as both a supply of information (livetweeting and Snapchatting as hyperlocal journalism) and a means of discourse (Twitter Moments, Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, etc.). That discussion has already been had and brought to its conclusion by this juncture, over five years after the documented unrest that kickstarted the current sociopolitical sabre-rattling around the Middle East. Leaders like Turkey’s Erdogan, for example, have attempted to block the use of social media in Turkey as a means of containing the backlash to his policies and actions, in its aftermath.
The truth is, there has always been uprising and upheaval wherever there is humanity, we have just never been in a position to observe the human side of the faraway, distant, current-affairs fodder until now. Of course, while nowhere near as important as that paradigm-shifting event, we needn’t look that far for an idea of how the levelling of the communications playing field alters the political discourse: we can look at the incremental changes that have occurred here at home.
Argue with it all you wish, the fact is power in Ireland does not bloody well care for accountability. We could name dozens of incidents, inquiries and faux pas that would not have reached the public eye without first spreading on social media, sometimes stopping there, other times becoming simply too much of a story to be spiked by editors deferential to the ring and the inside scoop. The inability to comprehend the reach and power of social media has both highlighted by and neatly summarised by Fidelma Healy-Eames, Fine Gael senator with a now-legendary penchant for making a cluster of technological references when discussing cybercultural issues on which she is clearly not well-acquainted, helping in part expose the degree to which the establishment in this country is even aware of the discourse surrounding their work.
But perhaps more importantly, for a society that has avoided lending people an avenue of organised opposition to Establishment forces like conservative politicians, the Catholic Church, the Garda Siochána and others, it’s provided a forum of knowledge/evidence exchange, sharing of alternative press and stories ignored by Irish media, and a popular means of keeping those that govern and would abuse the privilege in check.
The currently-ongoing Jobstown trials, for example, hinge for a good part on the evidence provided by those in possession of smart devices, in direct contrast with testimonies of establishment figures looking to punish protest against austerity measures. In the case of Jobstown, smart devices were a petard by which Joan Burton TD would ultimately be hoist, exposing her lack of knowledge of constituents’ engagement with the process by inferring that they bought “expensive iPhones” in lieu of feeding their children or somesuch.
We may only be scratching the surface, as the instruments of social control in post-colonial Ireland start to give way to the attrition of public discourse. As Facebook Video and other platforms emerge and provide zero barrier to entry, we may see another dimension emerge to the burgeoning dissonance in Irish society between the working-class left, the fabled (but lesser-spotted) “middle Ireland”, and those in thrall to conservative Ireland’s legacy.
American Press Institute. 2017. How hyperlocal news outlets are taking shape across the U.S.. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/research-review/hyperlocal-news/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].
Criminalizing Anti-Austerity in Ireland. 2017. Criminalizing Anti-Austerity in Ireland. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/04/jobstown-not-guilty-ireland-water-privatization-austerity. [Accessed 18 May 2017].
Independent.ie. 2017. It’s where you’re raped on Facebook’ – Senator Fidelma Healy Eames becomes viral sensation – Independent.ie. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/its-where-youre-raped-on-facebook-senator-fidelma-healy-eames-becomes-viral-sensation-29117524.html. [Accessed 18 May 2017].
Turkey Blocks. 2017. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp shutdown in Turkey – Turkey Blocks. [ONLINE] Available at: https://turkeyblocks.org/2016/11/04/social-media-shutdown-turkey/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].
twitter.com. 2017. No page title. [ONLINE] Available at: https://twitter.com/gemmaod1/status/864515365862354945. [Accessed 18 May 2017].