Joe Brolly: Society has been infected by Social Media Tourettes and the GAA is no exception

The Reverend Travis Clarke, Catholic parish priest of the Pearl Saint Peter & Saint Paul diocese in Louisiana, was arrested last week on obscenity charges. Bored by lockdown, his empty schedule allowing his head to be filled with unclean temptation, the poor man finally succumbed and as you do, organised an orgy on the church altar with his two communion servers. I have to say I’ve never been a fan of orgies. One never knows who to thank at the end of the night.

ast Wednesday, after the arrest, the Archbishop of New Orleans travelled to the church with his resident exorcist (I kid you not) and they performed a lengthy ritual (behind closed doors) that was said to have “purified God’s altar and restored the sanctity of his holy church.”

Rev Clarke, who has been summarily suspended, must be sorely regretting videoing the whole thing on his phone, which according to the local police chief he had “set up on a tripod to get the best possible angles, which will be a great help to the prosecution team.” As a friend of mine from Dungiven commented, “Let he who has not organised an orgy on the church altar with his communion servers throw the first stone.”

People can’t sit down to a dinner of chicken and mash these days without taking a picture of it and posting it online with some important message like ‘Yummy’ or ‘So hungry cannot wait to eat this.’ Society has been infected by what I call Social Media Tourettes (SMT). The automatic response to any event is to film and publicise it. SMT does not permit the sufferer to decide between what is acceptable, enjoyable, stupid, disloyal, dangerous, a gross breach of privacy or even a criminal act.

Most distressing is the glee with which many people in the GAA community are now happy to spread vile gossip, photographs and videos about other GAA members. This year, a well-known retired Gaelic footballer was subjected to a disgraceful attack on social media into his private and family life, which quickly went viral. It was the sort of poisonous campaign that dark US political forces might mount against a candidate for office.

Yet GAA people all around the country were spreading this stuff, instead of protecting one of our own. The problem is that people, because of SMT, do not think of the consequences. The trauma to a family. The whispering campaign in a community. The terrible sense of humiliation. It is pathetic and unworthy and it has to stop.

Recently, one of the great clubs and communities of Derry has been rocked by anonymous allegations against a large number of families of wife swapping and all sorts. Again, huge hurt has been caused because this stuff has been shared throughout the land by GAA folk who should know better.

Some years ago, one of our elite county footballers, struggling with a pathological gambling addiction, found himself at his lowest ebb and put himself in a dreadfully compromising position. The footage was leaked and GAA folk gleefully shared it. It was sent to me. I deleted it without watching and rang the sender (a friend) to forcefully tell him never to send me anything like that again.

When I was growing up and going through the ranks of Dungiven and Derry, we never had this problem. The sense of solidarity was very strong. If anyone was in trouble, we were all in trouble. Problems from family break-ups to alcoholism, gambling addiction to unemployment were all dealt with within the community. Publicly naming and shaming just for the fun of it never happened. Of course, we didn’t have camera phones. The only time I ever saw a camera about the club was when Danny ‘Click’ O’Kane took pictures for the paper of the team before the throw-in at a championship match.

Last year, I was being trolled online by someone I didn’t know with very vicious personal abuse. Not that it bothers me, but I noticed his profile pic was of a well-known GAA club, so I rang a friend of mine who owns a pub in that town. He said, “I know his father well. I am surprised at the young fella, I wouldn’t have thought he was like that.” I read out some of the abuse he was subjecting me to over the phone. “Jesus Christ, I’ll go over to the house now.” And so he did. About an hour later I got a phone call. It was the lad’s father. “I’ve a boy here has something to say to you Joe.” The lad apologised, I accepted and when we talked about it, it was clear that he had genuinely no idea of the sort of impact this sort of thing can have on people.

After a club championship game recently, a GAA member posted a photograph online of a half-naked girl in a compromising position. The photo was humiliating, an outrageous breach of privacy and obviously ought never have been taken. The man who posted it had not taken it. It had been sent to him privately and thinking it was a good laugh, he posted it to a group. The photo then went viral. The next morning, the man discovered, to his horror, that the young woman in the picture was his daughter.

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