By Francine Cunningham
When I was living abroad, reading the whiplash wit and self-effacing humour of the social media posts of friends back in Ireland could cause the odd pang of homesickness. Now that I have one foot firmly back on Irish soil, I’ve discovered that there are trolls, too, living among the rocks and mountains of this island.
The Twitter account @WhigNorthern styles itself as a tribute to Francis Finlay (1793-1857), founder of the Protestant newspaper the Northern Whig, and it’s stated purpose is to track Sinn Fein’s “subversive influence on Irish media.” As a firm believer in the idea that pluralistic and pithy opinions are not only necessary, but essential, to democratic debate in Irish society, I would normally celebrate such a forum. Indeed, the anonymous host of this account claims to have serious journalistic credentials.
Yet a quick scroll through the tweets coming from this account show that the most basic fact-checking has given way to some sort of fevered fantasy.
So, dear readers, it’s time to play truth or troll!
Troll: “Francine Cunningham has always been at the extreme end of radical nationalist politics – ex wife of one Frank ‘Colombia’ Connolly, long active at the anarchic end of tourist politics.”
Truth: I have only been married once and in fact I’m still married (to Peter Vandermeersch, publisher of Independent News & Media). I don’t know Frank Connolly, but looking up his name he seems to be an Irish journalist and writer who was the subject of an allegation in 2005 that he had used a false passport to gain entry to Colombia, at a time when there were suggestions of links between the guerrilla group FARC and the IRA. He has denied the allegations. If he does have an ex-wife, it’s not me.
Troll: “Francine Cunningham, from Strabane Co Tyrone, formerly of the Sunday Tribune, carried a lot of hard northern nationalist baggage into the ST, and is now depositing some of it in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish Indo and Sindo.”
Truth: I have never worked for the Sunday Tribune. I wrote for The Irish Times and The Sunday Business Post in the past. On arts and culture. Never politics. Nor have I ever set foot in, or have editorial influence over, the other newspapers mentioned.
Troll: “This dirty piece by Fionnan Sheahan which dotes on Sinn Fein, shows Sheehan’s political corruption and the new Francine Cunningham pro-SF line in INM [independent News Media] titles.”
Truth: Leaving aside the comments on a very experienced journalist (who can choose whether or not they are worth responding to), the presumption that anyone from Strabane must be pro Sinn Fein is a sad, sectarian stereotype.
Elsewhere, this Twitter account repeatedly refers to me as “Lady Macbeth”, “Lady ‘Colombia’ Connolly” and “an Irish consort who has a Northern agenda.” As someone who has spent most of her adult life abroad, has never taken any public political stance and currently works for an international law firm, these tweets fall somewhere between sick and crazy.
Yet in the social media bubble, it is said that fake news travels six times faster than the truth. Presumably because the truth is just so much more boring, so much less inflammatory.
In fact, I do have an agenda for the Irish media and it is this: full the public square with fearless, honest and irreverent journalism. According to Scandinavian folklore, trolls turn to stone when exposed to sunlight. (FC)