Ronan's Rant

Ronan McSherry

Twitter and Facebook… a force for good after all


I have a friend, we’ll call him Mel. A year ago Mel was a prolific Facebook user and then one day he wasn’t. On enquiring as to why he had stopped feeding Mark Zuckerberg’s monster, he replied, “It takes away, man!”

Like an alcoholic switching from beer to wine, Mel re-appeared on Twitter with predictable consequences. He walked about in a haze speaking to no-one but himself, clicking on his mobile phone while evenings were spent behind closed curtains tweeting, re-tweeting and indulgently counting ‘favourites.’   I was going to join him at Tweeters Anonymous meetings, until last week that is. Let me explain…

Much of Twitterland is like a stone skimming across the top of a lake with little depth but lots of surface shallow comments. While there are activists try in hugely practical ways to right the wrongs in the world, many express anger and indignation on websites before moving on to the next topic. There was the powerful cartoon of a suit in a beleaguered part of our pitiful world handing out Facebook ‘likes’ to the starving natives.


Along we went… Ice bucket challenge videos – Je suis Charlie – Cecil the Lion – the Sunday Game panel until the photograph of three-year-old Syrian Kurdish boy Aylan Kurdi lying face down in water stopped us all in our tracks.

Last Wednesday people power sprang into action in their tens of thousands thanks to one tragic image which went viral. News reports two weeks ago included a lorry discovered in Austria containing the bodies of 71 men, women and children who were fleeing the carnage of their homeland. However doubting Thomas needed to see the wounds.

It was the heartbreaking picture of the dead toddler refugee which has led to a whole sea-change of attitude. The phrase ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ had its origins as a Chinese proverb. Similar to the iconic 1972 photograph of a nine year girl Kim Phuc running naked on a road after being severely burned on her back by napalm, the heartbreaking picture of the child will be seared into humankind’s shameful history. The Mediterranean has become a floating cemetery.

The 1946 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the result of the experience of the Second World War. With the end of the war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed to never allow atrocities like those of that conflict happen again. World leaders had decided to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere. We may go back to the drawing board.

There is an illusion that western society has made great strides because we no longer shove children up chimneys and can text a result to our buddies in Australia before the teams have left the field. To quote my dear friend Mel, much of our modern technology “takes away, man!” A sign in a café in Derry reads, ‘WiFi password… alternatively feel free to speak to each other.’
Slaves to technology, we develop an over-inflated view of ourselves. Twitter is full of legends in their own minds expressing outrage at injustice before re-tweeting a joke from Paddy Power to hundreds of ‘followers’ and feeling  extra special when a celebrity on the internet gives us notice.

Last week, for the first time ever, I saw social media harnessed en masse to do good and with great effect.

Following the appearance of the photograph of the drowned refugee boy a huge Twitter storm erupted while Facebook petitions (with 200k signatories in 24 hours on social media) forced a debate in Parliament, a volte-face from David Cameron to the reaction.


The Calais action groups are trending, thousands are donating and people are doing, all because of Facebook and Twitter. This refugee crisis has shown the good social networks can harness.

Highlighting atrocities is vital but there comes a time to do.

A photograph of a dead child has stopped nations in its their tracks. Many individuals have sprung into action while it looks like governments too are reviewing their policies and can no longer justify turning their faces away.

  • There are numerous drop-off points across the North where donations and goods can be left to help the refugee crisis.


Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere

and get access to our archive editions dating back to 2007

Read the full story in this week’s paper, available in your local newsagents today or subscribe to our Digital Edition by clicking below


Ulster Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW