Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Bessbrook tragedy sparks sectarianism on Facebook: Pity we can't delete bigots of keyboard permanently

Residents visiting the pond to reflect on the tragedy at Bessbrook
Residents visiting the pond to reflect on the tragedy at Bessbrook

The fact that sectarianism is a daily facet of life here is – or should be – obvious to most. True, you might not have it cast into your face every day. Well, you might, if you live in an interface area, or a badly-run workplace, or find yourself rubbing up against the denizens of various loyalist and republican undergrowths.

But a lot of the time, it's not said out loud. Whispered, alluded to; more in thought than in deed.

And, of course, many, many people are not sectarian at all. They don't have a discriminatory bone in their body and do a fine job speaking up for communal harmony and justice.

Others recognise that prejudice was part of their make-up, however innocently acquired, and work to purge it.

But, sadly, one place you will find sectarianism in spades is parts of the internet.

Old battles rerun endlessly by the kings of whataboutery. Nasty, vicious comments and personal abuse from the fingertips of the keyboard generals.

Check out YouTube if you want to endure the raw, visceral, putrid tribal slanging matches that hang off the back of parading videos, or old Troubles footage.

What does it say about us? Well, I guess the same as it says about people across the world, just refracted through our own little prism.

The cloak of anonymity brings out our inner ranter a bit like drivers cocooned inside cars fall prey to road rage only to regret it later in the cold light of day on a magistrate's bench.

Racism, misogyny, ethnic chauvinism, a delight in inflicting personal hurt or maximum abuse – it's common all over the world. Alcohol, drugs and the instant, don't-think-things-through culture all play a part.

We're no worse than anyone else I guess, it's just that Prods v Taigs thing gets thrown into the mix as well. Which is not just embarrassing but actually has an effect on the ground in Northern Ireland, contributing to the problem which doesn't want to seem to go away (it needs resolute leadership, but that's a column for another day).

So what happens when the sort of stuff that's normally on YouTube and other places jumps up and appears on the website of responsible media? That problem was confronted by the Belfast Telegraph and others this week after the tragic incident in Bessbrook.

The death of Oswald Bradley as he tried to swim out to an island in the village pond because of a flag was a dreadful accident and one which serves to underline the dangers we face in not settling the questions of our past.

The Belfast Telegraph received several complaints about offensive comments and inappropriate remarks being added to the article about Mr Bradley's death. When the complaints were investigated they were found to have merit.

Those comments were quickly removed and offenders banned, and then a decision was taken to close commenting on the article altogether.

As I have previously said, I would urge everyone to use the 'Report' button if they see deeply sectarian or other inappropriate comments, particularly if they are made in the aftermath of tragedy.

Usually, the Belfast Telegraph commenting community is more mature than most, but on this occasion a number of people let us all down.

On another matter, rarely have I seen journalism as crass and irrelevant as The Sun's lead story on Tuesday.

'BOY, 4, MARKED WITH SIGN OF DEVIL' screamed the headline over an image of a barely-discernable "mark" which, when you read on, disappeared on June 16, almost as fast as the Sun's reputation.

As one wag put it on social media: "Your soaraway Sun soars back to the 17th century."

Tastefully done, chaps. Just as children are dying in the Middle East.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com @BelTelReadersEd

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