The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

OPINION 

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

anti-mask far right grafton st ireland
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

4th October 2020

If you have wandered through O’Connell Street in the past number of weeks, you may have noticed certain groups protesting outside the GPO. Upon first glance, it may have been difficult to identify exactly what was being protested: some raised placards call to “Protect Our Children”, and Irish tricolours are plentiful. Then, however, you may see the signs that beg you to “take off your mask”, claiming that “it’s only a common cold”. It becomes clear that the demonstration in question is an anti-mask one, protests that have been ongoing in Ireland since July.

 

The latest in these strings of incidents took place yesterday afternoon, October 3rd, as hundreds of anti-mask campaigners held a sit-down in the middle of Grafton Street as part of a protest in Dublin city centre. The protesters started with a rally outside the Custom House before marching to Grafton Street chanting “no more lockdown” and “no more masks”. While Gardai are investigating the organisation of the protest, it was believed to be linked to the group Yellow Vest Ireland. Yellow Vest is a populist movement that was founded to imitate the French Gilets Jaunes, describing itself as a “people’s movement” that is “not aligned to any political group, organisation or politician”. It has protested on a range of issues in recent years, like vulture funds, property taxes, the banking system and the immigration system. Their most recent activism has been aimed towards the anti-face-mask movement, however, with no social distancing and, of course, no face-masks, present at the event. Some of these demonstrations’ attendees may merely be believers of conspiracy theories about the virus, while others might simply be of the opinion that Government restrictions have gone too far. But is there a more sinister edge? It has come to light that such issues like direct provision, child protection, and most recently, this opposition to measures taken in response to Covid-19, have brought a growing far-right movement from existing almost entirely online, onto the streets.

 

 

The Yellow Vest protest was led by a formal “colour party”, comprising members of a Donegal-based far-right group named Siol na hÉireann. Its founder, Niall McConnell, spoke at the protest, rallying against “LGBTQ+ propaganda” and equating immigration to plantation. Earlier on the 12th September, veteran LGBTQ+ activist Izzy Kamikaze was struck in the head with a piece of wood wrapped in an Irish Tricolour at an anti-mask demonstration on Kildare Street that she was counter-protesting. The masked man who assaulted Kamikaze was part of a smaller group of protestors wearing badges that read “Antifa Hunting Permit. Open Season. All 58 Genders”. Antifa is short for Anti-Fascist, which is a decentralised left-wing protest movement that gained prominence in the U.S. recently for aggressively protesting against the far-right. And on August 22nd, a small number of far-right protestors, wearing face-masks and surgical gloves and armed with weapons such as iron bars and batons, attended a large anti-mask protest outside Custom House. These protestors were believed to be members of the Irish branch of Generation Identity, a thought-to-be deplete white nationalist organisation focuses on street activism and thought to have attended combat and survival training courses abroad.

 

“Opposition to measures taken in response to Covid-19, have brought a growing far-right movement from existing almost entirely online, onto the streets.”

Gardaí have been concerned about the expanding far-right in Ireland for many months now. In November, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris expressed that he is “concerned about right-wing extremism. We can see evidence of it on our shores as we have seen it spread across Europe.” In June, Europol warned of a meaningful escalation in far-right activity in Ireland. Dr Eileen Culloty, a disinformation researcher at DCU, explained that far-right activity has merely accelerated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures taken. “Back in March, they were mostly scapegoating minorities for breaking the lockdown rules, even though minorities are making up a large proportion of the key workers keeping Europe open. Then over the summer, it moved towards exploiting people’s frustration over the restrictions and claiming Covid was a hoax. And then, in the last month or so, it has culminated in these anti-mask demonstrations that are popping up around Europe.”

 

Opposition to lockdown measures is merely the latest cause commandeered by the far right. This is clearly seen in the case of McConnell and his far-right ideals infiltrating the supposedly non-political Yellow Vest protest. Yellow Vest leaders later spoke out against McConnell’s speech, claiming that all were welcome at their protests – and it is true that the far right is just a tiny minority of the attendees at such protests. But they are present. They are able to utilise the platform to advance their own agenda. They have an audience, willing to listen and capable of being persuaded. This is where the danger begins.

 

 

Featured photo by Paul Dunlea

 
 

 

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

OPINION + WOMEN

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the military representation
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

4th October 2020

In recent years, the relationship between women and the military has become topical in countries such as the UK. In 2018 all positions in the British Army became open to women for the first time, and since then the army has been using increasingly feminist rhetoric in their PR and recruitment campaigns. However, during the same period, government reports and individual testimonies have shed light on the level of discrimination, abuse, and sexual harassment experienced by women in the British armed forces. These issues have fuelled important discussions on the compatibility of feminism and the military – or lack thereof. These discussions have been largely focused on the experiences of female soldiers, questioning whether army service can be empowering to women on an individual level. However, the stories of female civilians (the group that has historically been most affected by war) have been consistently left out of the discourse. Women who have witnessed the reality of imperialist military intervention and shouldered the true cost of war should be at the forefront in discussions about gender and the army. Instead, both historically and in the present day, female civilians in conflict have had their voices spoken over and their stories twisted and misused, for the benefit of imperialist powers.

 

As we can see in the British Army’s current PR campaign, particularly in their podcast episode with Laura Whitmore, feminism is being appropriated in order to paint military service as empowering to women. Another, perhaps even more dangerous way in which feminism has been misused is in the portrayal of Western military interventions as liberatory to civilian women. Both of these narratives are used to expand the military reach and both erase the lived experiences of women who have suffered at the hands of militarism. The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth.

 

Historically, Britain and other European powers have attacked the rights and undermined the autonomy of women in colonised countries. In the process of colonisation, the social, legal, and economic structures of patriarchy were often forced upon native societies. For instance, in pre-colonial Canada, indigenous society generally valued women, and indigenous women often held leadership and decision-making roles. Furthermore, because of strong kinship systems, women were not economically dependent on men. However, colonial settlers ignored the position of women in indigenous culture, refusing to engage with female spokespersons and enforcing the patriarchal norms that had been well-established in Europe by that time. The lasting impact of patriarchal colonialism can still be seen in Canada today, where indigenous women face the highest rates of violence, poverty, and poor health.

 

“The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth.”

The colonisation of Africa also saw the European ideals of patriarchy imposed on native women. The arrival of cash crops and the exclusion of women from the marketplace meant that African women generally lost power and economic independence during the colonial period. Because colonial authorities relied on the testimony of men to establish customary laws, the legal systems that developed under colonialism disadvantaged women. Furthermore, the pre-colonial political activity of women was largely disregarded and colonial agents worked exclusively with men in establishing political offices. For instance, in many parts of West Africa, associations run by and for women had deciding authority in disputes related to markets and agriculture. However, because these institutions were completely disregarded by European colonisers, they tended to lose power after the late 19th century. Overall, Britain, alongside other imperialist powers, has a long history of reversing the rights and freedoms of civilian women in colonised countries.

 

Despite this reality, the subject of women’s rights was used to defend British imperialism. This phenomenon relied on the portrayal of women in the Global South as victims, who need to be saved from their own culture by “civilised” Westerners. This paternalistic and racist narrative has been used time and time again to justify devastating wars and exploitative invasions, particularly in Islamic countries. As scholar Leila Ahmed discusses in her book Women and Gender in Islam, the late 19th-century British coloniser Lord Cromer used the veiling of women in Islam as evidence of the inferiority of Islamic civilisations, and ultimately as justification for the colonisation of Egypt. Lord Cromer actively opposed women’s suffrage in Britain and hindered the progression of women’s liberation in Egypt – yet none of this stopped him from using women’s rights as a pretext for his colonial endeavours. Disturbingly, a similar pattern is still playing out in the 21st century.

 

Since the early 2000s, Britain and the United States have used “feminist” rhetoric to help justify imperialist military invasions in the Middle East. In 2001, George Bush pushed the idea that war in Afghanistan would free “women of cover ” – reverting to the same patronizing portrayal of Muslim women that was used to defend British colonialism over a century prior. Concerningly, women were also complicit in promoting this storyline, with both Laura Bush and Cherie Blair being wheeled out to speak on the plight of Afghan women in the lead up to war – as though Western military invasions and bombing raids would somehow help liberate them. Yet in 2011, ten years into the war, Afghanistan was named the “most dangerous place in the world to be a woman”, with ongoing conflict and NATO airstrikes among the primary reasons cited. In a similar fashion, the narrative of rescuing women was used to legitimise the Iraq war. Bush repeatedly made vague, non-committal statements about women’s rights in the lead-up to the invasion. “Respect for women can … triumph in the Middle East and beyond”, he said in a speech to the UN in 2002 in which he urged action on Iraq. While Iraqi women were granted some benefits on paper during the war period, in reality, they were disproportionately harmed by conflict and left with less security and economic autonomy than before. The vast suffering of female civilians at the hands of British and U.S. military action highlights the utter emptiness of feminist language in this context.

 

George W. Bush gives a speech on war in the Middle East, focusing on the rights of women (videocafeblog, 2008)

The trend of world leaders appropriating feminism to sell militarism ultimately contributes to public ignorance about what war really means for women. According to the United Nations, war and conflict exacerbate pre-existing gender inequalities and leave women at a heightened risk of human rights violations. During conflict, women and girls are increasingly targeted through the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war. In late 2019, the British government and army were accused of covering up war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including sexual abuse. As well as a serious increase in the risk of gender-based violence, women are also disproportionately impacted by unstable access to essential services. Access to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, can often be disrupted during conflict, leaving women and girls at risk of unplanned pregnancy, maternal mortality and STI’s. Furthermore, due to additional domestic responsibilities and fear of targeted attacks, girls’ right to education is disproportionately threatened during war. Continued instability in post-conflict periods means that the threats posed to women’s rights can last long after war officially ends. These issues, and the immense suffering they cause, are too often swept under the rug in discussions about gender and the military.

 

In conclusion, despite the empty words of political leaders and the vague sentiments of military PR campaigns, war poses a threat to women’s rights throughout the world. The suffering of civilians has always been inherent in the military action of countries such as Britain and the U.S., and women have shouldered the brunt of this injustice. The use of feminist rhetoric in a pro-war context is not only hypocritical but serves to erase the experiences of civilian women in war, including those who have lost their lives.

 

Stay tuned for episode 3 of this series which will explore whether or not gender representation in the military actually promotes equality.

 

 

 

Featured photo by USA Today

 
 

 

Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore

Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore

OPINION + WOMEN

Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore

British Army 2020 recruitment Campaign Women Confidence
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

4th September 2020

 

Love Island presenter Laura Whitmore faced major backlash last month following her sponsored Instagram post promoting her appearance on the first episode of the British Army podcast ‘The Locker’. While Whitmore denied that she was trying to recruit people to the army, many condemned the paid partnership as insensitive and tone deaf. Her tribute to John Hume on twitter the same day was the subject of particular scrutiny, with some accusing her of hypocrisy and ignoring Irish history. Despite the controversy, Whitmore defended her decision to appear on the podcast, arguing that the episode presented an important discussion on gender. Although issues such as body image and being female in a maledominated industry were covered, some have questioned whether the British Army podcast is an appropriate platform for these discussions.  

 

As is the case with most military bodies, the British Army has a poor track record when it comes to women’s rights. The prevalence of sexual harassment within the military, the disproportionate effect of military conflict on female civilians, and the historic impact of colonialism on women’s liberation are all defining issues in the relationship between women and the army. With this in mind, it is clear why many were sceptical of Whitmore defending her collaboration with the army in the name of feminist discourse. While the British Army’s use of feminist language in their PR campaigns could be interpreted as a sign of progress, it is important to question the intentions behind this move and, most importantly, who benefits from it.  

 

While discussion on this topic has been focused on Laura Whitmore personally, there has been little scrutiny of what the military were trying to achieve with the collaboration, or what this controversy says about their recruitment tactics more broadly‘The Locker, the podcast that Whitmore appeared on, is dedicated to “lifelong confidence”- the theme of the 2020 military recruitment campaignThe campaign, released at the start of this year, is targeted at 18 to 24-yearolds who believe that confidence holds them back. The primary message of the campaign is that while today’s society offers youth shortterm confidence boosts, military service provides confidence that lasts a lifetimeA marketing tool that plays on the insecurities of young people is highly questionable in and of itself, but is particularly concerning in the context of military recruitment. 

 

British Army recruitment campaign advert for 2020 – ‘Army confidence lasts a lifetime’ (The Telegraph, 2020)

Through their podcast, social media and other marketing platforms, the 2020 recruitment campaign has presented young people with a deceptive image of military service. Far from being the beacon of confidence and stability that is portrayed, there is much evidence to suggest that army service can have a devastating impact on mental wellbeing. A study published in 2018 showed that 17% of UK military veterans who were deployed in a combative role in Iraq or Afghanistan presented symptoms of PTSD – over three times higher than the rate for UK civilians. Furthermore, while the UK does not keep records on suicide rates amongst veterans, evidence from countries such as Canada, the U.S., and Australia suggests that the risk of suicide for army veterans is far higher than it is for the general public. These issues may partly explain why the UK military is facing a crisis in both recruitment and retention, with figures released in mid-2019 revealing the army had fallen in size for the ninth consecutive year. The charity Forgotten Veterans argue that this shortfall has arisen in part from public recognition of the severe mental distress experienced by veterans.  

 

Given the harsh reality of military service, the British Army’s “lifelong confidence” campaign can be seen as an attempt to manipulate and exploit vulnerable youth in the name of hitting recruitment targets. Troublingly, women may be disproportionately harmed by this kind of campaigning. Women, particularly in youth, face intense social pressures and harmful patriarchal narratives that can be detrimental to their self-confidence. These issues contribute to the self-esteem gendergap, wherein women tend to be less confident than men. Because of this, any marketing campaign that is intended to play on insecurity has inherently gendered effects. As well as this, the Laura Whitmore controversy reveals that the army may be specifically targeting women’s insecurities as part of their campaign. 

 

“Sexual harassment, the disproportionate effect of conflict on female civilians, and the historic impact of colonialism on women’s liberation are all defining issues in the relationship between women and the army.

As Whitmore herself suggested, the podcast episode she appears on discusses the issue of confidence from a specifically female perspectiveIt is hosted by three women who speak on topics such as body image, imposter syndrome, and underrepresentation in the workplace. While this kind of discussion has the potential to be productive and empowering, it arguably had the opposite effect in this case. Underneath the language of female solidarity, the episode is essentially an advertisement for the army. Military service is continually framed as a solution to the challenges facing women’s self-esteem. It is suggested that women can be empowered by joining the army, as this proves others wrong and demonstrates that they are as competent as men. This individualistic approach masks the reality that lower confidence in women is a product of systemic misogyny that must be tackled through collective feminist actionIt also promotes the harmful idea that in order to overcome the psychological harms of being stereotyped, women need to prove themselves to others, instead of fighting the system of patriarchy that creates these stereotypes in the first place.  

 

Laura Whitmore British Army Podcast The Locker

Laura’s Instagram post for ‘The Locker’ podcast (@thewhitmore, 2020)

However, perhaps the most damaging part of the episode is what is left unsaid about the experience of female soldiers in the British military. In May of this year former senior officer Diane Allen spoke out about the widespread issue of sexual harassment and abuse experienced by female soldiers both historically and in the present day. She argued that power in the military is still held by a toxic cohort of senior, misogynistic, white, middle-class males.” Allen’s statements are in line with the findings of a 2019 report by the British government that revealed unacceptable levels of sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination facing female and minority soldiers. As well as these issues, women in the army face disproportionate risks to their mental health. The 2019 Ministry of Defence report into mental health in the armed forces revealed that servicewomen were over twice as likely to present with a mental disorder than servicemen. Research from the US also suggests that female veterans are significantly more likely to commit suicide than their male counterparts. When the true experiences of female soldiers are brought to light, it seems unjustifiable that the army are advertising to young, insecure women with the promise of empowerment.  

 

Ultimately, female liberation is about more than individual women occupying roles that have been traditionally held by men. Liberation is about tearing down entire systems of inequality and holding those who have perpetuated them accountableIt is therefore a step in the wrong direction when institutions that have consistently undermined women’s rights are allowed to co-opt the language of female empowerment for their own gainThe recruitment of young women into military service by preying on their lack of confidence is to the benefit of the British Army alone. This PR move appears without any recognition of the experiences of female soldiers; it comes without any promise of change and, despite what Laura Whitmore might suggest, it is anything but feminist.

 

Stay tuned for episode 2 of this series which will explore the disproportionate effect of war and conflict on civilian women.

 

 

Featured photo by Ministry of Defence

 
 

 

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Business + Politics

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties

free speech covid-19
brandon lynch

Brandon Lynch

8th September 2020

 

Freedom of speech is understood to be fundamental to the democratic system, a system that, thus far, has stood the test of time. We hold our freedom of speech dearly as human beings, with constitutions such as the United States reserving its first amendment to uphold such a right.  

 

Historically, the ancient Greeks pioneered this principle around the early fifth century B.C as “Parrhesia” or “to speak candidly or to ask forgiveness for so speaking”. Parrhesia was fundamental to the democracy of classical Athens, with courts, theatres and assemblies subscribing to its proponents, much like today’s contemporary structure. However, protection of speech was first introduced by King John of England in 1215 with the signing of the Magna Carta, a charter of liberty and political rights, subjective to who you’re asking of course.   

 

Today,  free speech centres around the 1948 United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes free speech as a human right.  

 

‘If the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and press is to mean anything, it must allow protests even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets for the community’ – William O.Douglas (1957)  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination. Epidemics have also altered the societies which they have spread through, affecting personal relationships, the work of artists and intellectuals, and man-made and natural environments. COVID-19 is much the same in this sense, with its presence rapidly altering the political, social and economic landscapes of our modern world.  

 

Now COVID-19 is attacking not only our ability to be heard, but also the legitimacy of that voice. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is one of the many prevalent examples of where freedom of speech has been hindered by COVID-19’s continued exponential growth. However, I do feel Ethiopia, unlike many other examples I could use, will disproportionately suffer from the stripping of such scarce personal freedoms.  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination.

 

As of July 23rd, Ethiopia, the ‘Land of Origins’, where humans first walked uprights, ranks 75th in world COVID rankings, with 11,524 cases. For a country of 115 million inhabitants, this stat isn’t particularly daunting. However, when we look at the additional statistics of testing capacity and availability, the issues become more cognizant. Arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics and journalists have spiked following the declaration of a state of emergency on April 8th 2020. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed cited such arrests under enforced emergency legislature, stating “media institutions are to deliver accurate information to the public”.  

 

However, if we are to critically analyze such statements, a reality of biased corruption and state censorship shines through. This lockdown on free speech has been exacerbated by the change in government., Under the current administration, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation legislation grants government authorities powers to fine and imprison citizens for their social media activity, infringing on the autonomy to speak, organize, mobilize, and challenge the government’s narrative.  

 

We have seen the impacts of this on a personal level, with stories such as that of Yayesew ShimelisShimelis, an employee of Tigray TV, a regional government-owned station, published on his personal Facebook and YouTube the proposal and preparation of 200,000 graves in anticipation of deaths from COVID-19. The following day Oromia police arrested Shimelis at his family home, seizing his laptop, cellphone and notebooks.  

 

Other examples of free speech infringement can be seen in examples like that of Elsabet Kebede, a prominent member of the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association. On April 4th, Addis Ababa police detained Kebede and transferred her to the custody of Harari regional authorities. Reports suggest officials have not charged her with an offence but accuse her of disseminating false news on Facebook posts they claim could ‘instigate violence’.  

 

Alp Toker, executive director of Netblocks, a non-profit organization that monitors internet censorship expressed his concern on the ever-increasing powers of censorship in Ethiopia.  

  

“On 22 June 2018, his government (Ahmed) declared free expression a foundational right and ordered the unblocking of over 200 websites. Instead, exactly one year later, the entire internet  has been blocked and Ethiopia is digitally isolated from the world”  

 

Such issues are unfortunately not pandemic exclusive, beyond arrests of some high-level officials in November 2019, there has been little progress on accountability for past abuses within Ethiopian institutions. A national reconciliation commission was set up in December 2018 but it has an unclear mandate.  

 

For the roughly 16 million internet users in Ethiopia, internet shutdowns have been routine since 2015, with newly implemented emergency powers exacerbating restrictions. Internet access is key to unlocking the country’s economic, social and political potential. Continuing internet blackouts and censorship are costing Ethiopians roughly $4.5 million each day the internet is cut, hindering proposed social initiatives to lift inhabitants from poverty.  

 

 

Featured photo by wiredforlego

 
 

 

Accepting and Adapting: A Note on COVID-19 Context

Accepting and Adapting: A Note on COVID-19 Context

Opinion

Accepting and Adapting: A Note on COVID-19 Context

berlin bar dublin wash your hands covid-19 2
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

3rd September 2020

 

2020 so far has been an absolute whirlwind – and not the good, refreshing, exciting kind. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown created a completely foreign world for people all over the globe, in which the daily practices and social norms we took so much for granted were completely demolishedWhen a system override of this magnitude happens, there is not much left to do but build again from scratch. 

 

This time last year, little did we think we would be in position of worldwide quarantine, rendered helpless at the mercy of a deadly virus. Even more socould we ever have pictured all that would go along with something that affects us and our lives to this scale 

 

This time last year, I would not have believed the fact that I would silently judge people for not wearing a facemask indoors in public.  

 

I would have thought it ridiculous that we all frequently wait patiently for forty minutes in a spaced-out queue right through the shopping centre just to get into Tesco to do our weekly shop, standing surrounded by deserted clothes shops and restaurants. 

 

I would have been shocked if I found out that, at different points in the lockdown, we could only travel 2 kilometres and 5 kilometres from our own houses, and only eventually be able to venture outside of our own county towards the end of the summer – and adhered to these rules. 

 

I would have been surprised (and probably delighted – praise the leg room!) if you mentioned that we were legally only allowed to sit one-per-row on buses and trains.  

 

When a system override of this magnitude happens, there is not much left to do but build again from scratch.”

I would never have thought I would be rolling my eyes at people choosing to go on or book leisure holidays abroad. 

 

I would find it utterly unthinkable that schools and colleges could take a six-month hiatus, or if I found out that I would matter-of-factly finish my final exams from my bed at 10pm. 

 

This time last year, I would have laughed if you told me that the European Commissioner was in national disgrace and was forced to resign after “merely” attending a Golf Society dinner along with 80 people in Galway. 

 

And yet, all these rules and all these instances we have just taken in our stride. Although it was certainly a shock to the system at the beginning, we got on with it. Now, most of us barely bat an eyelid; we keep an eye on the precautions and follow the rules, as if we have always lived like this. Throughout the coronavirus, the pandemic, and global quarantine, humans have proved themselves to be as flexible and adaptable as ever. A new world has been forced upon us – but we have created the new norms to go with it.  

 

 

Featured photo by William Murphy

 
 

 

Social Media Doesn’t Need to Stop. We do.

Social Media Doesn’t Need to Stop. We do.

Opinion

Social Media Doesn’t Need to Stop. We do.

taking picture of woman for social media
valerie mchugh

Valerie McHugh

2nd September 2020

 

When I was 11 years old, I got my first mobile phone. It was bigger than my hand, and probably weighed more than a saucepan of baby spuds, but this did not ruffle my feathers too much. The only phone numbers I had were my family’s, and they were painfully boring to text with. They did not understand any of my ‘super cool’ text lingo, so I didn’t bother using the phone that much.  

 

But then I hit the teenage years, and these block phones seemed to fall into the shadows behind the shiny new smartphones. Most of them retired to that drawer in the kitchen that is seldom opened; the one filled with old rolls of tapeChristmas wrapping paper, and that tool your dad uses to bleed the radiator.  

 

Consequently, social media began to be a major thing just as I was hitting secondary school. Every day I heard about ‘Animal Farm,’ on Facebook and much to my embarrassment I never quite established what it was – but I knew that was not missing out. did not see the appeal in reading about my friends online. I spent every day with them, and I figured I already knew everything I needed to knowWe were also taught about cyber bullying from a young age, and I was often advised to avoid social media altogether to protect myself. This le me to view social media as a problem I did not need, something that scared me. As a result, I did not venture into the 21st century until I was in my second year of secondary school. 

 

tentatively created my very first social media account on Snapchat when I was 14. I picked aextremely cringey username that I have regretted ever sinceand I have continued to use the app every single day for the past 7 years. It surpassed my expectations and was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. The ability to talk to my best friends whenever I wanted was something that I got a major kick out of. Late night gossiping sessions and the frequent viewing of other people’s best friends lists became my social life; and since then, I have been building my profile on multiple social platforms.  

 

Over my teenage years I heard a lot of negative things about social media and how it has been construed as an unhealthy place for us to be. Cyber bulling became more and more prevalent in everyday life as I got older, and I will never forget the AskFM phenomenon that disrupted countless lives and destroyed many people. Other notable soul-destroying factors that were often mentioned as I grew up were the use of photoshopping and the unhealthy comparisons so frequently made when viewing oneself against a public image that popular people had construed as the norm.  

 

I always considered myself as a bystander in this drama. I was watching it happen, but I was never involved in this world. Yes, I had social media accounts, but the negative, scary sides of social media always seemed to go right over my head. Maybe it was my parents monitoring my internet usage that saved me from this, or maybe it was just luck. 

 

But then I became an adult 

 

I was faced with a whole new world of people that I presumed were way cooler than me simply because of their presence on social media. I thought that the coolest cats were always the one that snapchatted their way through three nights out week and posted hungover lecture snaps on their private stories the next day. Therefore, I figured that the less desirable members of the college community were people like me, the ones who didn’t really care about drinking and the ones who snuggled up in bed with Netflix and tea every night for 90% of the semester 

 

Ironically, I became the main viewer of my own social media pages: re-watching my own stories, checking who had liked my photos, and stressing over a perfect caption for every single thing that went on my page.

I have always danced to the beat of my own drum, even if I do not always like the sound of it, and I’ve carried on doing my own thing for as long as I can remember. But I am only human, and I became extremely conscious of my lack of Instagram content; and consequently, felt obliged to get a ‘grammable’ picture every time I ventured past the threshold of my bedroom door – just to prove that I had friends.  

 

Social media became the source of all my news stories, which in hindsight was highly questionable, considering that I am studying to become a journalist. I figured I was learning all I needed to learn, and probably getting real-time information from real people. 

 

Ironically, I became the main viewer of my own social media pages: re-watching my own stories, checking who had liked my photos, and stressing over a perfect caption for every single thing that went on my page.  

 

But a few weeks ago, on a very ordinary day, I came to aextraordinary conclusion after watching a friend of mine absentmindedly scroll through her own Instagram posts and zoom in on her face in every photo, all while having coffee with me.  

 

After putting a different pair of glasses on, I realised that it is not just me that obsesses over their own newsfeed  this silent obsession has infected every single one of us. I always brushed it off as just a factor of Instagram life, but now have come to the real conclusion. It is not the app that is making us do this. It is us and our perception of what we should be, that is created by other people who are also following what they think they should be.  

 

And it is all FAKE. 

 

Why have we become selfish robots who aspire to be perfect, or at least be the perfect version of imperfection so that we will still get dozens of likes simply for being ‘relatable’? Why is it the features of social media platforms that are mainly blamed for the disasters that ensue as a result of them, when it is the people using them that comment, criticiseand bully? 

 

We did not get taught the absolute truth when we were in school. I was advised to avoid social media because it could hurt me. But it is not the app that will hurt me; Facebook is not going to jump out of my computer and punch me in the face. It is the world that can hurt me. It is people and this sickening obsession we all have with ourselves. 

 

The solution to this social pandemic that is destroying us does not lie in avoidance of the App Store or at the touch of the iPad. It lies within us. 

 

Social media does not need to stop. We do. 

 

 

Featured photo by Josh Rose