'Read your Irish Examiner and get the facts!': Muireann O'Connell's mission to debunk fake news

'Read your Irish Examiner and get the facts!': Muireann O'Connell's mission to debunk fake news

Muireann O’Connell talks trolls, ambition and why living fearlessly is the key with Ciara McDonnell.

It feels strange to be writing a story like this in the middle of a global pandemic, where the world has literally turned on its head. It is a month since Muireann and I got together to talk about where she has been and where she is going next. At the time, we glossed over the subject of Covid 19. It seemed so far away, and to many ‘nothing more than a bad flu’.

Before going to press, I reached out to the television presenter, to find out how she is doing in these unprecedented times.

“Life changed in what felt like overnight, but it wasn’t,” she says. “We saw what was happening in China back in January but I personally thought, that won’t happen here. How wrong could I be. A globalised world truly means everything is local.”

Following a week where Muireann co-presented Virgin Media’s Six O’Clock Show from her sitting room, because only one presenter is allowed to be in studio at a time, the world is exponentially different.

“Every time I talk about the Coronavirus — which is all the time at the moment — I feel like a walking, talking cliché with the ‘we’re in this together’ and the ‘we can get through this’,” she points out. “They are clichés for a reason and I DO think that we are all in this together — whilst remaining at least two metres apart.”

Muireann has been making it her mission to debunk the fake news circulating on social media platforms, citing it as despicable. “These are the people who just want to see the world burn; the people who want to foster dissent, the people who enjoy watching people in pain and panic.”

Now more than ever is the time to consume news from reputable outlets, to check and check again that you trust the source of the information you are reading, she implores. “If this has taught us anything, it is don’t get your news from a post on social media written by your friend’s cat’s dog. Get it from reputable sources. This has never been more important.

Read your Irish Examiner and get the facts!

Even if Ireland had remained as it was a month ago, a lot has changed for Muireann O’Connell since I last interviewed her two years ago.

At the time, she was without question, the busiest woman in Irish media, running directly from her show at Today FM to the Virgin Media studios in Dublin’s Ballymount, to begin prepping for that night’s Six O’Clock Show.

Following a much-publicised change of the guard at Today FM, Muireann briefly had a few moments to catch her breath, no longer juggling two daily shows, and instead investing herself fully into the world of television.

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The shift was difficult, there is no doubt about that, but Muireann is philosophical about the situation today. “I worked for a company for 12 years and then I didn’t. This happens to people, all over the world, all the time, ” she points out. “It’s hard to separate the place you work from your life. How can you when today’s work culture is all about seeing the company you work for as an extension of yourself and your life?”

Our lives are inextricably linked between work and our lives out of work, and therein lies the rub, she says. “That’s where the heartbreak comes in; the paranoia of who knew what and when, and if they were all talking about you while you were going about your day, oblivious, but, life moves on.”

What advice does she give to those of us going through the same thing?

“Scream, shout, let it all out. Then try to pick yourself up. The shame, fear, embarrassment and pain eventually ease. People may say it’s only a job, for a lot of people, it’s so much more than that.”

And pick herself up she did, by ploughing all of her energy into her role at Virgin Media One’s Six O’Clock Show. Talk shows come naturally to the Limerick chatterbox, borne out of her genuine interest in people.

“I love talking to people,” she says.

Regardless of how many times you speak to someone or interview them. I always think that there’s something else to find out or to chat about or to hear about. I love seeing life through someone else’s eyes.

When you Google Muireann O’Connor, several popular searches come up. Muireann O’Connell boyfriend? Muireann O’Connell weight loss? Muireann O’Connell salary? Despite obvious public interest in the minute of her life, this television personality has managed to maintain a level of privacy that is virtually unheard of. She chooses not to speak often of her private life, and that she says, is down to the way she was brought up.

“I think that regardless of what job I’m in, I would be private about my personal life,” she muses. “My parents are the life and soul of the party but they are very private people. I think all of us are, as a family. We are all private but we live in this new world of kind of opening up. I think it’s natural to be the way I am.”

The true star of social media is (whether she is aware of it or not), Muireann’s mother Marie. During her trips down home, Muireann’s audience waits patiently to see if Marie has made the welcome home quiche for her beloved daughter, and when Marie doesn’t like an outfit that Muireann wears on the Six O’Clock Show, we’ll all know about it.

Cleverly, and without agenda or strategy, through this caricature of her mother, Muireann gives her fans a small insight into her personal life, before shutting the door and cocooning herself again.

We have never been more hungry for interaction with the people we admire in the public eye, and social media has opened up a chasm where everyone is accessible. While some attention is lovely, and the craic is mighty, there is a very dark underbelly to social media channels that O’Connell rails against.

Take the YouTube channel entirely devoted to montages of Irish female television personalities wearing leather pants or leather skirts. “Oh God, it’s terrible,” she says. O’Connell and a number of Irish personalities have been such regular fixtures on this channel that they have privately named the host of this channel Leather Man.

'Read your Irish Examiner and get the facts!': Muireann O'Connell's mission to debunk fake news

And he is not the worst. There have been lewd photos — exactly the kind of photos you are imagining – sent through Instagram, traced back to men whose profiles are full of their wives and children, living their seemingly best life. It’s these pictures that really affect O’Connell.

It gets to me. When people send you creepy stuff that you don’t want to engage with, and then you see their happy family who are clearly oblivious — it gets to me.

Rather than engage with the mansplainers and the trolls and the people who think they are better than her, Muireann has a tried and true method for navigating the choppy waters of social media.

“An awful lot of the time I will write something really scathing, and I mean really scathing, and then I’ll delete it. For me, that’s cathartic and I can walk away from the situation.”

Following on from the passing of television presenter Caroline Flack, the hope is that there will be a change across these channels, and O’Connell has experienced this first hand. “Last week someone said something harsh to me, and then I responded. They apologised immediately and deleted the comment.”

When Muireann was a child she didn’t dream of becoming a television presenter, she dreamed of becoming Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

She has never considered herself to be an ambitious person, because she doesn’t have a five-year plan. Now, in her 36th year, she is realising that plans don’t make the woman, and that it’s ok to want to be successful.

“I always thought that ambition came with a plan, whereas now I think that ambition is something completely different. Now I know that it is setting different targets and goals in your life.”

Life, says the television personality, is getting better and better. She is finally starting to believe what she read as a teenager in the pages of Bliss and Sugar magazines when they said that 30’s and 40’s are fantastic.

Today, Muireann says she is not as afraid as she used to be. “I have been terrified most of my life, certainly in my professional life,” she explains. “I have been terrified of putting my head above the parapet or getting something wrong or being seen to want something that someone else could maybe do better. I’m not afraid of that anymore because God only knows what will happen in life. That fear doesn’t take up as much head space any more, and it feels good.”

Muireann O’Connell presents The Six O’Clock Show with Martin King weekdays on Virgin Media One.

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