This paper has been published as: Paul Reilly (2011) 'Anti-social' Networking in Northern Ireland: Policy Responses to Young People's Use of Social Media for Organizing Anti-social Behavior. Policy and Internet 3 (1).
Ten years after the Belfast Agreement, Northern Ireland remains a divided society as signified by the persistence and even proliferation of interface areas, often divided by so-called ‘peace walls’ and intermittent conflict between rival communities on either side. Recent media reports have suggested that online interactions between rival interface communities on Web 2.0, the section of the Internet that revolves around user-generated content, may be undermining efforts to foster better intercommunity relationships, as demonstrated by the use of Bebo to organise rioting in Londonderry (April 2008) and the posting of videos showing rioting at the Ardoyne shops in North Belfast (July 2009). This paper will explore the strategies being deployed by community groups and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to prevent incidents of recreational rioting in their areas, with a particular focus on how they respond to suspicious activity on social networking websites. While authors such as Gaines and Mondak (2008) argue that Web 2.0 ‘publicises socializing,’ this may afford nation-states greater powers of surveillance over their citizens. Morozov asserts that the use of social media to organise flash mobs has enabled authoritarian regimes such as the Belarusian government to both monitor and arrest protestors since 2006 (EDGE, 2009). Interviews with a number of interface community workers and members of the PSNI will determine the extent to which these agencies are monitoring social networking websites and how this influences their modus operandi. While authoritarian regimes use Web 2.0 to stifle dissent and actions in support of it, the focus in Northern Ireland is very much on promoting the safe and responsible use of sites such as Bebo. However, this approach may have little or no impact upon the anti-social behaviours of young people who use sites such as Bebo to organise so-called 'recreational riots.'