Twitter is a hostile place for a unionist – and for non- mob-approved opinions generally

Stephen Nolan’s successful unmasking of a number of Twitter trolls and the substantial sums which he has received in compensation should result in a debate about the use of the medium to shape public discourse in Northern Ireland

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 1:34 pm
A generic anti-trolling cartoon, taken from Creative Commons (and marked a public domain)

(Stephen Nolan to receive six figure sum from ‘Pastor Jimberoo’ Twitter user who subjected broadcaster to ‘malicious campaign’ of false and defamatory allegations, July 1).

The first thing that deserves to be said about the Twitter is that, in my experience, few “normal” people use the platform. It’s largely politicians, journalists, press officers and trolls.

Anyone who dares to voice any opinion which is remotely Unionist on Twitter risks a torrent of abuse from accounts run by people who don’t have the courage to put their name to what they say.

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That anonymity grants them the freedom to spout vile abuse which is unfit to print. In the past I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair bit of it because of material which has been published in this paper.

More than once I’ve challenged these faceless people to write to your paper responding rationally to my arguments. Unsurprisingly none have ever taken up the offer.

The second point which deserves to be made is that, as Mr Nolan has proved, people behind these accounts in some instances at least have substantial incomes.

It clearly isn’t always the case of the stereotypical teen in their parent’s basement.

Thirdly, this is an issue which is particularly pronounced when it comes to Republicanism. Anyone with experience of Twitter as a platform will know that a tricolour in a Twitter profile description is often an indication that you will discover a feed filled with invective directed at any Unionist brave (or foolish) enough to use the platform.

Which brings me to my final point – for that reason Twitter has become, in a Northern Ireland context at least, a narrow platform from which many view points and perspectives are excluded.

Unless you conform to the views of the mob you simply won’t bother with the Twitter and if you do you will avoid expressing your political views.

If you don’t you will find your phone pinging throughout the day with foul mouthed abuse from people who don’t even have the courage to put their name to their Twitter account.

It was good to hear Mr Nolan say that he had the support of his employer throughout all this but journalists and the BBC need to reflect on how they amplify voices on the platform

I can think of at least one prominent presenter who used a tweet, purporting to be from a loyalist, to attack Protestant sectarianism.

But a 20 second glance at the account the tweet had come from should have been enough to tell him that the individual who posted the material wasn’t what he claimed to be.

A good step in the right direction would be for the BBC to stop reading out on air tweets from accounts which don’t carry a real name.

– Samuel Morrison is press officer for the TUV, and resides in Co Down

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