It seems reasonable to suggest, even if that suggestion confirms an enduring, hopeful worldview, that Brexit and the Trump presidency would not have happened without the knowingly dishonest tirades of some social media voices. It is beyond argument that those dishonest voices encouraged the January 6 assault on American democracy and that they, to this day, encourage the defeated Trump to pile delusion on dishonesty when he insists he won the White House election. That he, despite his immediate family distancing themselves from his lunacy of the spurned, has convinced so many Americans of the justice of his cause is more than unsettling, especially as that capacity to believe the fantastic is like a ripple reaching ever further shores.
Versions of those ripples, thankfully no more than ripples, reached many capitals this weekend when protests against covid measures were held in many countries. There were relatively modest demonstrations in Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, Britain, Croatia, Austria, Australia and other countries too. There were protests in Ireland as well. The most generous estimates suggest that fewer than 2,500 people took part in Dublin's Saturday demonstration, a reassuringly tiny event.
All demonstrations were built on the momentum generated on social media, some of it seemingly reasonable but wrong. More of it was deliberately toxic. Many were understandable expressions of the frustration that will endure as long as certainty remains as elusive as the possibility of declaring that the pandemic has run its course and is no longer a worldwide threat to life. As if on cue, that uncertainty, that unrelenting flux was underlined by weekend changes to requirements for indoor hospitality businesses that were able to reopen yesterday.
Many Saturday demonstrations were understandable if not admirable expressions of the frustrations probably shared by the majority in every country that hosted a demonstration. However, that silent-but-loud majority seems better able to balance the realities of the day. Other elements of the demonstrations were less understandable, less tolerable, especially those dangerously anti-science strands that persisted in spreading fear and gross dishonesty about life-saving vaccinations. The vehemence, ignorance and paranoia of anti-vaccination views, was as astounding as it is dangerous. This issue may well come to a head when schools and colleges reopen in a few weeks time.
These events have, however, pushed one issue centre-stage, one that cannot be ignored. President Michael D Higgins became the target for utterly unacceptable social media abuse after he signed the Health Amendment Bill, the legal foundation for vaccine passports, into law. A number of anti-lockdown and far-right Facebook pages called for Mr Higgins to be killed or forcibly removed from Áras an Úachtaráin. These calls were echoed at Saturday's Dublin demonstration. In the simplest terms, this cannot be allowed to stand.
Those individuals who made those threats, the very epitome of abusing free speech, must be identified and sanctioned. That, however, is attacking the monkey rather than the organ grinder. Just as was the case before January 6, these anti-democratic forces rely on the cover and anonymity of social media to spew their bile. Though this is not at all a new realisation it underlines again that a new transnational urgency is needed to tackle the social media platforms happy to host, and profit from hate and ignorance. This boil must be lanced, preferably sooner than later.