Pat Rabbitte, late of the Workers' Party and presently part of the very unpopular Labour Party, is worried. No, not about the slump in his party's fortunes - they have another four years to address that - but about the effect of the social media on society.
Pat’s concern came off the back of that famous tweet into The Frontline presidential debate programme on RTÉ, which falsely claimed that Sinn Féin would next day produce the man Sean Gallagher was supposed to have collected money from for Fianna Fail. Yes, I know it’s temptingto go into all that again, Virginia, but let’s stick to Pat’s point, shall we?
Which is? That social media – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, all that stuff –may lower journalistic standards. Eh? That’d be the journalistic standards that threw everything but granny’s commode at John Hume and Gerry Adams for daring to talk during the 1980s? That’d be the journalistic standards that refused to allow the voice of a democratically-elected party to be heard on the airwaves over the same period? And the journalistic standards that spent the entire presidential election asking Martin McGuinness if he went to confession rather than his political achievements over the previous seventeen years. Cheesh.
The real reason Pat – and many other politicians – don’t terribly like the social media is simple. It’s too democratic. Anybody can get on there and say their two-bits worth, and it’s instantly available to anyone anywhere in the world, assuming they have a computer and online access. What an appalling vista! You don’t have to be a journalist, you don’t have to be employed by Sir Tony O’Reilly or write in line with The Irish Times policy – you just get in there and do it. All voices can be heard.
Almost as important, the social media let people know they are not alone. A lot of people have a view on political events but they keep their thoughts to themselves, because they think maybe they’re the only one to think that way, so they’re probably just an oddball. By reading the views of others like themselves, they’re encouraged, develop a self-belief in their own judgment, find moral support. And I’d emphasise I’m talking about all political viewpoints, not just those I’d agree with.
But Pat does his worried little frown and talks about “journalistic standards” instead. Sorry, Pat. Admittedly the big guns of the traditional media still pound the public with the message of the powers that be, but every day, thanks to social media, those big guns are getting pounded right back. Shocking, isn’t it? Next you know, people will be encouraged to think for themselves, and then what’ll we do?