Irish politicians should lay off social media

Diarmaid Ferriter: TDs quick to criticise Twitter and Facebook but they need to look at their own use

Last year was littered with social media-inspired political controversies. Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley found himself making a Dáil statement arising out of his tweets regarding the IRA and Leo Varadkar. Photograph: PA

Last year was littered with social media-inspired political controversies. Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley found himself making a Dáil statement arising out of his tweets regarding the IRA and Leo Varadkar. Photograph: PA

TDs and Senators lined up during the week to lambaste social media companies Twitter and Facebook over trolling and anonymous accounts. A meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Local Government examining political advertising campaigns was the occasion for politicians to take the companies to task for their sins, and they are manifold. Anonymous abuse is a recurrent problem with social media output and the toxicity and bullying that has flourished in recent years is reprehensible. Politicians, however, also need to examine their own social media use as it is far too often the enemy of context and nuance and has compounded the problem of the decline in the quality of public and political discourse. Recently, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris launched his TikTok account amid a blaze of publicity announcing he had “finally taken the plunge” and was “not sure I quite know what I’ve let myself in for” but wants to use it “to keep in touch with you, keep you up to date and share a few insights”.

There seems to me a desperate neediness to this. Social media is primed to get people to think of themselves as leading and informing their “followers”, but that exercise too often becomes vacuous and indulgent. TikTok allows users to create short videos and Harris quickly proceeded to post a shot of a cup of tea being made with a sports game on in the background while informing his audience he was also doing “prep for tomorrow”.

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