Belfast Telegraph

Teen girls' Belfast fight: Facebook turns children's fisticuffs into public event

By Lyra McKee

The first I knew of Sunday's fight between two teenagers in Belfast city centre was when I was standing in Primark's customer service department, getting a refund.

It was just before 6pm and an employee popped his head round the corner to let his colleagues know the police had paid a visit. "Apparently there's trouble down there, some fight or something," he said.

Walking past Castle Street, I still wasn't sure what was going on as I watched at least 200 teenagers galloping up the road with glee. They appeared to be looking for something. Naively, I wondered if they were coming back from a concert.

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My niece, sitting miles away in the comfort of her house, knew exactly what was going on. She had since around Wednesday. She was even able to tell me that the fight was scheduled for 5pm but didn't happen until nearly an hour later - and she wasn't even there.

Let's be honest: we all loved playground fights, as long as we weren't in them. They added a bit of excitement in between maths and science, breaking up the day's monotony. They were a guilty pleasure, one you could partake in without actually getting into trouble because all you were doing was watching. We didn't know that one punch could kill. Evidently, neither does this generation. When I was growing up, scores were always settled with fists - a 'fair dig'. But I think most of us were secretly afraid. Being tough wasn't about glory - it was about scaring other people off so they wouldn't try to hurt you, too. If they were afraid of you, you were safe.

It's the most horrible of spectator sports. Growing up near an interface during the tail-end of the Troubles, we'd already seen a lot of violence and its consequences. Looking back, I wonder what we got out of it. Were we addicted to conflict because we saw so much of it?

On Facebook and Twitter, we live in our own little bubbles - people like us. So unless you're a 15-year-old, you rarely see what teenagers are getting up to or what's happening in their world. And that's scary.

We all did stupid things at that age but social media now amplify those actions and their consequences in ways that they didn't for my generation.

When I was 15, playground fisticuffs were just that. If I'd been arrested for every scrap I got into in my youth, I'd still be serving time. Now, thanks to Facebook, the playground is Belfast city centre at 6pm on a Sunday, with no teachers around to break the fight up and a criminal record awaiting the participants instead of detention.

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