Social media and the spread of hate

Ciaran Tierney
7 min readFeb 16


The National Party join an anti-refugee protest in Dublin. Photo via Ireland Against Fascism on Facebook.

When mass murder was taking place in Myanmar seven years ago, social media played a significant role in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims.

For years, people had spread Islamophobic material on Facebook in a country of 54 million people, including conspiracy theories and grainy photos of atrocities supposedly carried out by a long-resented minority.

Even though images and videos were doctored and heavily edited, and often not even from Myanmar, they spread like wildfire in a country where mobile phone usage had begun to increase dramatically. People might not have had access to broadband, but almost everyone had access to an app called Blue.

Every new mobile phone came with the Facebook app included and vendors in the cities helped people to create Facebook accounts as soon as they purchased their phones.

In Dublin at that time, the European headquarters, Facebook had just one person looking after “community relations” for all of Myanmar. He or she spoke Burmese, but there are more than 100 languages spoken in Burma or Myanmar.

No wonder Facebook, or Meta as it is known now, was unable or unwilling to deal with complaints in response to a frightening surge in harassment and hate speech.

That hate speech led to massacres of innocent people in Muslim villages, and a mass migration of frightened men, women, and children across the border into Bangladesh in 2016.

In Myanmar, hate speech on social media led directly to real-world violence because, as we’re finding out in Ireland right now, social media algorithms can manipulate our emotions.

If we click into conspiracy theories on social media, it’s no surprise that conspiracy theories turn up again and again on our timelines. If we believe refugees commit more crimes than Irish people, the people we follow on social media reinforce our views — no matter how inaccurate they may be.

Over five years ago, I read a book by Irish woman Angela Nagle called ‘Kill All Normies’. She looked at how the far-right in the United States used platforms like 4Chan, Tumblr, and Telegram to spread conspiracy theories. This was long before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Far-right actors revelled in the anonymity which tech companies gave them and, in one high-profile case, a young LGBT teenager was bullied into suicide after posting something stupid on the internet.

At the time, I remember thinking that the situation was nowhere near as bad here in Ireland. Reading Nagle’s book gave me a greater understanding of why angry people, who received all their news from social media, voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

Seven years later, though, and the spread of hate which caused such alarm in the United States is occurring here now.

In recent weeks, on the internet, I have seen a former national newspaper journalist invite two Holocaust deniers from the U.S. onto a “livestream” in an attempt to ridicule or discount the real life testimonials of the only two Holocaust survivors still living in Ireland.

A recent livestream in response to the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Screengrab by author.

She was outraged that they were invited to speak about their real-life experiences, as children in concentration camps, on RTE’s ‘Late Late Show’ on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On Telegram, a former member of the Irish defence forces shared similar views about the two elderly survivors.

“To the ‘survivors’ who spoke at this event, giving rise to the evil concept of Hate Speech, and arguing against Free Expression, I want to say … from me … Go f — — yourselves you ignorant pigs,” he wrote.

I have met one of the people he directed this comment at. Tomi Reichental is one of the nicest people I have ever interviewed, now in his late 80s, a man who witnessed unspeakable horrors as a child in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Imagine showing this comment to him?

A few weeks ago, at a protest in Finglas, Dublin, a man with his face covered addressed a night time demonstration against the accommodation of refugees in the area.

“Burn them out of it. There is no point standing here outside of the garda station, you have to go to where these c**ts are staying and burn them out if it,” he shouted, in comments which were widely shared on social media.

Last weekend, a person posted about the huge number of “unvetted” males hanging around outside Dublin Airport who seemingly were part of this new “plantation” of Ireland. Had the person stopped to inquire, rather than filming from a passing car, he or she would have discovered that they were actually hundreds of French rugby supporters in Dublin for the Six Nations game on Saturday.

Falsehoods are spread every day, but the social media companies don’t really care about verifying them or countering hate speech against minorities, as long as they increase their engagement and they can continue to lure people back to their platforms.

Anger and discord invites us back time after time.

In September 2020, I became aware of how little the social media companies really care about online abuse when a person hiding behind the name ‘Brainwashed Globalist F***wit’ began to harass me on social media.

Apparently, he did not like one of my blogs. He was convinced I was being paid by Hungarian-American businessman George Soros to write blogs which portrayed people like him as far-right extremists.

He even threatened to sue me for ruining his good name, which would have made for a very interesting court case. Because Twitter has thousands of these anonymous, abusive accounts, and the people behind them set up new ones as soon as they are reported and banned.

For weeks, Twitter did nothing, despite my complaints. Eventually, they did shut down his account, but only after a wide range of account users complained about his online behavior.

The abuse he sent to females was particularly vile and made me wonder what impact his online harassment could have on someone with mental health issues or going through a tough time.

There is no doubt that there is a lot of justifiable anger in working class communities across Ireland over the cost of living, the crises in housing and health care, and the way refugees are being bussed into deprived areas following zero consultation with local people.

In East Wall two weeks ago, I met a man whose daughter and two grandchildren have been on the housing list for years. They live in a tiny apartment and are in despair about their prospects of ever finding a decent home in Dublin. He attends the protests because he’s angry that his working class community is being left behind.

He assured me he was not a racist, but he firmly believed that locals were not being consulted and that more affluent communities were not taking their fair share of asylum-seekers.

Why, he rightly asked, was nobody in the locality consulted when migrants or refugees were suddenly moved into a disused ESB building (which was not fit for purpose) on the East Wall Road?

We had a cordial conversation for half an hour.

But this week, some of the people who stand beside him at the regular anti-refugee protests in East Wall are hosting Tommy Robinson, the Islamophobic founder of the English Defence League, in Ireland.

On social media, Irish “patriots” who have been prominent at anti-lockdown and anti-refugee protests for the past three years are now welcoming Robinson to Dublin.

This is a man who “stands with Soldier F”, the British soldier who took part in the mass killing in Derry on Bloody Sunday, a man who describes himself as a loyalist, and prides himself on wearing an England top on “Paddy’s Day”.

It is hard to imagine that English fascists, who have shown much greater interest in Irish affairs since these anti-refugee protests began, really care much for the welfare of working-class communities in Ireland.

An editorial from British tabloid The Sun in July 1988. At the time, Irish people were flocking to Britain in search of work and the British far-right were on far from friendly terms with the migrants from Ireland.

Yes, not everyone who attends these protests is a racist or far-right. But if you are standing alongside the founder of the English Defence League or the openly far-right Irish National Party, you would need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

In their private groups, the far-right actors joke about winning over the “normies” just as their counterparts did in the United States.

Meanwhile, the people who caused the current housing, health, and migrant crises — the Irish Government — can sit back and watch as working class communities tear themselves apart thanks to poisonous posts on social media which are only aimed at fermenting division and hatred.

The chaos and turmoil Angela Nagle documented in the United States in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election is very much in evidence in Ireland now. And the social media companies don’t really give a damn, as long as we keep logging on.

(Please give me a “clap”, a “follow”, or subscribe to my mailing list. You can find me on Twitter at I am seeking new opportunities after finishing up my latest project on the beautiful island of Inis Oirr

An anti-lockdown protest in Dublin. Opposition to vaccines and lockdowns has been replaced by protests over the housing of asylum-seekers in areas where there has been little or no consultation with local communities.

· For an informative read about Facebook’s relentless battle for social media domination, I recommend ‘An Ugly Truth’ by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. Although it has to be said that there is far worse material on Telegram, which seems to have next to no moderation.



Ciaran Tierney

A former newspaper journalist, with an interest in human rights, travel, and current affairs, Ciaran won the 2018 Irish Current Affairs Blog of The Year award.