Neighbourhood officers Ricki Rintoul and Tony Allen explained how social media is both a tool to communicate with people living in West Belfast and another beat to patrol. They commented on the need to prune the comments left on the West Belfast PSNI Facebook page (the force’s third largest behind Bangor and Newtownards). They also mentioned the PSNI’s tooling to monitor for and instantly alert on sectarian and potential riot-organising phrases, as well as the forces ability to work with social media companies like Facebook to identify the users behind criminal messages. (Also encouraging to see local police officers on-stage in West Belfast, without flak jackets, talking very naturally about their interests and hobbies as well as their policing work.)
Harriet Long (LGB&T advocacy officer and keen blogger) spoke about how social media supported LGB&T people. Eithne Gilligan (Voice of Young People in Care/VOYPIC), and Wayne Denner (Digital Media expert) completed the panel.
Over the seventy five minutes, the audience and panel covered many of the darker dangers of social media – sexting, stalking, trolling, reputational destruction, sectarian abuse – as well as the positive ways in which social media can be fun, build reputation, support minority groups and be used for campaigning.
While a fan of Skype, it was odd when senior Sinn Fein activist Jim Gibney expressed his scepticism about social media … tools which the party uses heavily (and often to good effect).
The last comment from the audience perhaps simultaneously summed up the joys and perils of social media:
“I know a friend of mine who got mugged. And he says when he was chasing after the guy who mugged him he was already thinking about how a class Facebook post it was going to make.”
While calm and relaxed – words unlikely to be used to describe this evening’s West Belfast Talks Back with Peter Osborne, Mike Nesbitt, Mary Lou McDonald and Jeremy Corbyn! – you can listen back to the event in three segments.