Politics, Protest….Social Media

Politics and the Influence of Social Media.

I am not convinced by the claims that Social Media have a significant effect on Norn Iron politics. Or at least, I was not convinced until Twitter, Facebook and YouTube posts appeared which poured scorn on the Fleggers and the Paraders…and more recently Republican dissidents and even more recently Norn Iron politicians in general.
Maybe Tinternet is the authentic voice of Opposition. But it is all based on an elitist attitude…Satire rather than Philosophy.
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So a seminar 10th December at University of Ulster Belfast Campus.
Participants|
Dr Orna Young…(Chair)
Alan Meban….New Media Enthusiast and Slugger O’Toole regular.
Dr Dave Magee
Harriet Young
Brian Spencer
Dr Paul Reilly.

About twenty-three people in attendance. These included Leading Flegger and the target of much ridicule, Jamie Bryson. Mr Bryson was accompanied by some friends.

Nice to see Alan on the platform.
Alan spoke first and he sees Blogging in the same context as the cheap pamphlets in the Linenhall Library, a means of getting a message across, using the means available at the time. While leading politicians here use social media, it is soft focus stuff, no hard politics. Bloggers should not kid themselves that they have changed the world. But Blogging does provide a safe space for the politically active.
Mentioning Platform for Change, Alan noted their comparative invisibility in terms of online presence. And Occupy Belfast was embarrassingly contradictory.
Acknowledging Jamie Bryson’s attendance, Alan spoke of the “exclusive friendship club” which existed before Bryson, Willie Frazer and others became part of the de facto leadership of the Protestors. The Movement did not grow out of a “hashtag”… It grew out of Orange halls and band membership.
Loyalists Against Democracy….from Satire, Lampooning, Ridicule, Mocking, alleged Bullying, crossing the line into Viciousness. LAD need to get a grip on their output.
Is Twitter…an online Peace Wall, where people can chuck verbal bricks over a wall?
NI21…is it the new political party for the Facebook Generation?

Dave Magee is a recent “PhD” and a Peace Activist. TV, print media was now dead and that social media had taken over, he revealed himself to be in a bubble.
He misses the point that Bloggers live in a Blogging World. Is he really correct that it provides a “voice for the voiceless”. Surely Norn Irons Academic Community are the noisiest voiceless people that I have ever met.
Dave claims people can now form their own narrative…..that may be true but are academics not involved in controlling the narrative….as indeed they probably should in terms of History.
The Internet is a tool for Peace and Activism.
Dave made the excellent point that the Internet was as much about Mass Surveillance as Mass Communication and we should maybe be as wary of the Internet NOT being banned as we are about it being banned.
Dave referenced Chesea Manning (convincingly) and Julian Assange (less so) but it maybe stretches things to talk about the “military occupation of civilian life”. It seemed to enter “tin foil hat” territory with “they” are spying on everyone and checking out who is talking to whom. Are “they” really that interested in Fracking activists, wind farm activists and….Cambridge University students.
Dave seems obsessed with Activism….he is involved with peace activists, feminists, musicians, poets, LGBT, vegetable growers..and people who make soup (??????)….who are bound by a committment to Justice…..Gender, Poverty, Economics.
He is involved with the Compromise After Conflict “team”….and Dave fell into jargon ….blogs from “stake-holders” which undermined the better points he made.
But really this is a man who has spent too much time with (loyalist) ex-prisoners and touring bonfire sites on the 11th July. Wanting to highlight the “good work” done by loyalist ex-prisoners and referencing “progressive elements” in UVF….is really just an academic form of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Explaining Fascists….even “progressive” fascists to the World…is not something I would want to do.

Is Harriet Long related to Naomi Long? I dont know (my wife just asked me) She is a community worker. Particuarly with families and this leads to a broader interest in Peace and Reconciliation. Social Media has introduced Harriet to IDEAS. Her own Blog is quite open…she does not hide behind a screen name.
Blogging is
1 a voice for the voiceless.
2 encourages dialogue (building bridges).
3 establishes Harriet’s place at the table.
Devolping the first point, Harriet did seem to understand that there was a REAL voiceless community that the Academics dont get to hear. Predictably many of these voices are women.
Theres not enough time given to these voices.
On the second point, Harriet spoke about Norn Iron having many people like herself. Educated and committed to a Community….a narrative has emerged that people have been forgotten.
I think she over-stated the whole “caring” thing in the broader community. Too defensive about East Belfast in general. Yet I think her basic point was correct.
A Social Media “table”? More jargon?
She holds a list of forty people …subversives who could change the conversation in Civic Society.
(Actually Id forgotten she had said that until I read my notes….Oh my God….there WILL be a LetsGetAlongerist coup d’état.) But isnt it interesting that when people talk about “inclusivity” they are really only talking about kindred spirits.
Anyway Id be surprised if I was on Harriet’s Little List.
Harriet believes Institutions in Norn Iron are on their way out but….to be replaced by Social Media?
It is frankly glib to talk about Non Traditional Leadership…nonsensical jargon. “I want to hear from the care-givers”.
Brian Spencer is well known as a Blogger and an occasional cartoonist on Slugger O’Toole.
Brian is a former law student and is now a “legal blogger” and artist. He outlined areas of the law that applied to Bloggers.
These included contempt of court, stalking, intimidation or being offensive. He cited the example of the “joke tweet” that mentioned blowing up an airport. Reference also made to how reputations can be damaged and it can be costly as in the case of Sally Bercow. The response of the Law has been robust, even heavy handed.
The basic lesson is “Think Before You Tweet”.
The Internet has produced a rise in people using social media but in Norn Iron, sectarianism “has grown a new head”.
The lesson from the Courts is “tweet at your own risk”. Brian himself believes the answer is in Education rather than Regulation.
Referring to Loyalists Against Democracy, Brian spoke of Humour, Satire and Balance.
The success ofLAD is due to the “Muzzled Moderate” finding a voice.
Brian actually welcomes the criticism that LAD is offensive or bullying. People have to stand up to the tiny minority, destroying the reputations of us all….turning Norn Iron into a “racketeering bucket shop”.
The power of the dissidents…unionist and republican ….has gone unchecked too long.
He gave examples of loyalists using extreme racism and sectarianism to counter that they were hardly convincing victims of bullying.
Brian was also critical of those liberals who denounced LAD of being elitist.
Credit to Brian Spencer.
Whether directly (Alan Meban) or indirectly (Dave Magee and Harriet Long) there was a certain acceptance that Jamie Bryson was in the room. There was a sense of punches being pulled.
So…Brian…a liberal unionist…pulled no punches.
A LetsGetAlongerist with Attitude.

Paul Reilly is writing a book about Social Media and Protest.
Political Parties dont yet see votes in Social Media.
Fringe Parties such as the Greens seem more ready to embrace the new media.
For Republican and Unionist residents groups, its not really about Dialogue. Its about getting the views of their own community.
I’m not sure why this surprises Paul.
No Party, No Group exists to provide a kinda Entertainment for Academics.
It is NOT a Game.
Likewise it cannot realistically surprise that residents groups use mass (old) media. The clue is surely in the word “mass” getting a message out to the largest number of people. That means Newspapers and Newsletters distributed door to door rather than a Website.
In a broader sense Technology is still the TOOL. It is not the DRIVER.
All of the Political Parties are aware of a resource issue with online presence. Paul mentioned a Stratagem (hiya Quintin) report which shows that a lot of MLAs (96% maybe) use Twitter, Facebook etc.
The Flegs Dispute. Paul notes a disenchantment with unionist politics. And sectarian exchanges and angry moderates.

Interesting that during the break…excellent tea and scones…quite a lot of participants introduced themselves to or re-acquainted themselves with Jamie Bryson.
Struck me as odd. Twelve months previously Jamie Bryson was a Nobody. Now he is a Player.
I did not introduce myself to Jamie Bryson.
And really a bit disappointed that so many seemingly intelligent and certainly educated people wanted to pay court to him.
Its not that I am a snob.
I am probably the best part of forty years older than Mr Bryson. Yet I feel I know him all my life. I am perhaps a mirror image.
Jamie Bryson is a working class Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist.
I am a working class Catholic, Nationalist and Republican.
I know exactly how he ticks. I dont have to ask him how he thinks. Alas the PhD Students need to hear “authentic working class voices”.
But there the similarity ends. No PhD student wants to hear my authentic, working class voice.
Did I stop becoming an authentic, working class voice when I got seven O Levels? Or was it the two A Levels? Or was it the Degree in History and Politics?
Unlike Jamie Bryson, I remain a Nobody.
I cant be patronised by Academics. Nor am I a useful source for an authentic thesis.
Nor am I accepted on equal terms.
Yet if the Academics think that “authentic working class heroes” ….nationalist or republican ….can be used or tamed, they are mistaken.
Academics can be bought at Queens University and sold at the University of Ulster and they wouldn’t even know they were in a parcel.
Academics confer a degree (no pun intended) on ex-prisoners, ex-combatants.
Its street cred….being on first name terms with a leading Conflict Resolutionist bestows respectability on a street fighter.
Being on first name terms with a street fighter gives the wannabe academic some kudos.

The mystique of the Belfast Street Fighter is long standing. There are even university modules which name-check Buck Alec, Stormy Weatherall and Silver McKee. Yet such people would have held little mystique for my father. And the generations of subsequent street fighters hold little mystique for me.
Which is why Journalists and Academics inhabit a curious neutral zone, where I can never be.
It is the best part of forty years since I first heard the story of the Female Dublin journalist who boasted to colleagues of her “first Protestant”, a UDA man. Of course I did know a young woman from nationalist Belfast who fell into similar hands in a UDA Romper Room.
And what about the journalist twenty years ago who asked a UDA Thug “am I the first Catholic to be in your car?” And got the reply “well youre the first LIVING one”
How we laughed.
Except of course if youre not a journalist.

After the Break…
Key Words…as usual….Disenfranchisement, Women, Negativity.
No seminar is ever complete without these keywords being used at least once.
But its a bit lazy.
Disenfranchisement….surely the letsGetAlongerist-Conflict Resolutionist campaign to produce a homogenous, middle-ground society….is more likely to produce low turn-outs than Conviction Politics.
Women….yeah that old cliche that if our politicians were all women, we would have less trouble. Someday I must introduce the Panel to the women in my life. But …seriously that notion is patronising to women.
Negativity….ah yes we must never be negative. Negativity (or Reality) is not allowed.

It is now over a month since this event. Apologies for delay in Blogging. I have been suffering from a broken nose (dont ask!) and possibly I have Seminar Fatigue.
Some good questions from the “Floor”….star quality audience.
Yet there is something uncomfortable about it for me.
Another Seminar…and I am rapidly becoming a One Trick Pony. I made the same tired point…I even bored myself…That LetsGetAlongerists, Conflict Resolutionists, MetroTextuals and Academics are in a cosy middle ground controlling the Norn I iron Blogosphere.
But you all know that anyway.

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5 Responses to Politics, Protest….Social Media

  1. FJH, that was hugely enjoyable. Any chance we could pursuade you to do the party convention circuit too? You have a knack for some much-needed, outside the “beltway” observations.

    • Thank you Seamas but I am semi retired from this lark.
      Might be a couple of interesting non-SDLP interviews in the offing. But can you really see me at an Alliance Conference without being lynched?
      The Blog…as you once observed has a broad pan-nationalist appeal but as you know I am a SDLP member and this is an Election year.
      Its likely that the next few months the Blog will be less “independent” . Hopefully the quality wont suffer.

      Seriously, one thing I have tried to avoid over several years is being “sucked into” the MetroTextual environment. The Blogging community is a small one and I want to stay semi-detached.

  2. Brilliant write-up. Anyone wanting to listen along to the original panel discussions in parallel with FJH’s “director’s commentary” can fine them at http://sluggerotoole.com/tag/nisocialpol/

  3. Political Tourist says:

    Wonder if the day of the “pope is the anti Christ” leading the Ulster Protestant revival type of clergyman is over.
    Notice the three street level crowd getters in the “fleg” scene are young Jamie, Frazer and a Scottish fella who fell out with the BNP.
    I couldn’t see any of them being elected as it stands at present.

    • Well the “organised” churches keep out of politics. The very public face of the clergy in 2013, is Ecumenists …Rev Ken Newell, Clonard Redemptorists….the people the LetsGetAlongerists love…I suppose Maitin O’Muilleoirs NONE chaplains fit the profile.
      Any of the more weird sects have been overtaken by financial scandal or run by ex-prisoners who found GOD in Long Kesh.
      Any anti-Catholic (or anti-Protestant for that matter) vitriol these days is led by Secular Whigs.

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