“If you ask me one thing I could have done without in the last twelve months it’s social media” Jamie Bryson

I finally listened back to the discussion after December’s Transformative Networks – Social Media, Politics and Protests panel event at UU’s Belfast campus.

The audio recording wasn’t particularly clear – a large room with everyone sitting around the edges – so at the time I didn’t upload the entire Q&A session. But some snippets are worth sharing for posterity.

Harriet Long commented on the continued usefulness of long-form blogging in the age of micro-blogging:

I write a blog which is kind of like essays or a magazine-on-a-website type thing. A man said to me “oh, blogs are so five years ago” and therefore it’s not important. And I think, actually maybe if we need to bring that back and stop people only relying on 140 characters on Twitter we could say a lot more about ourselves and learn a lot more about other people.

I responded – with a huge generalisation – saying that it was a masculine thing to be a bit shouty and to use short sentences. 140 characters is just enough to get your opinion across to say “You. Are. An. Idiot.” or “Best thing ever, I really agree with you”. I went on to light-heartedly suggest a swap-with-your-partner week in which the predominantly male leadership in Northern Ireland would send their partners to do their job for a week and vice versa to turn Northern Ireland on its head and listen to different voices for a change.

11309080564_9dff8f8316Dave Magee was not optimistic about social media getting to the root of everyday problems. It is “not effective and needs to be coupled with a deep commitment that goes offline”.

Barton Creeth noted how some politicians and parties use social media in an anti-social way (linking to press releases with no attempt at engagement, and the no no of tweeting in the third person [Ed – #TweetLikeAnMLA?] though I can’t find his specific example involving Tom Elliott) and groups’ twitter accounts losing their organisational voice and launching into personal attacks. He asked whether we need social norms for social media … and training?

Asked in what way social media transformed anything in Northern Ireland over the last twelve months, would anything have been different if we hadn’t had Twitter or Facebook, Jamie Bryson spoke up from the back of the room and said:

As somebody who was involved in the organisation of the flag [indistinct] protests, if people gave me one choice to say there was one thing you could have done without, it would have been social media … People didn’t understand the flag protests and a lot of people believed that it came down to people organising on social media. That was actually a smoke screen for what was actually going on. Social media wasn’t what everybody believed it was … it was more of a tactic of organised chaos which everybody could have done without.

photo by Brian O'NeillHe went on:

In terms of the state and the police who obviously would have an interest in squashing protests and other things it would be ludicrous to suggest that the state didn’t in some way have people in some way in and around those protests to discredit … and social media was a very easy way of them to do that, to spread misinformation about people, to change things.

Social media is a time of instant opinions. So if you’re trying to move a protest movement in one direction … there was one whenever I made the decision to call off the protest and move from blocking streets to white line protests, the first 24 hours of that was chaos because everyone had an instant emotional opinion as in “we’re selling out, we’re not doing this” and that instant opinion went inside 72 hours when people had time to think and you talk to people one on one the whole thing changed around.

So the impact of social media had in instant opinions and emotional reactions was you don’t have time to think.

Last night was a perfect example. The Orange Order called a parade off and without people looking into the benefits of that straight away “sold out”, starting tweeting, it’s going mad all over the place in instant opinion.

As silly as this may sound, if you ask me one thing I could have done without last twelve months, it’s social media. It didn’t help us in the slightest. We could have done far more.

Look what Paisley done without social media and that’s because of being able to go talking to the people, and in those days you’d have one person in a local community who’d be a voice that local people would listen to, and if you had an avenue into them people, then you could effectively control that whole community.

In today’s society it’s very difficult to control any sort of mass movements. I’ll never be able to put 10,000 people on the street like Paisley did, but saying that I could probably reach 10,000 people with a tweet. But I’ll never be able to do that because of instant opinion, so many people can have so many different opinions it all gets messed up so it ends up a bag of marbles.

It has its benefits, but if you ask me, I could have done without it … it wasn’t beneficial to me.

Though Jamie’s prolific use of Twitter and his use of Audioboo in December to release portions of his PSNI interview tapes does suggest it has some benefit to him personally!

Paul Reilly reminded the audience that there were mass demonstrations and protests across the globe before we had mobile phones, and he recalled a sarcastic tweet mentioning that “fax machines didn’t cause the end of the Cold War”.

Photos by Brian O’Neill

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Bryson denied that he organized any protests, yet here he is saying he “took a decision” to move from street protests to white line protests ?

    And as for the problems of immediate emotional declarations on social media without people being aware of the facts ? Sheesh. That practically defines all of his twitter output.

  • David Crookes

    “…..if you had an avenue into them people, then you could effectively control that whole community.”

    Interesting language from a democrat. But JB makes a very sensible point. Instant social media for all is bound to generate a lot of instant folly and instant emotionalism at times.

  • Republic of Connaught

    I really am absolutely baffled as to why people in the north give this immature little boy such publicity? He is just a silly boy with a big mouth; the very fact he gets such publicity in northern media and debate highlights the immaturity of northern politics.

    He has no mandate. He is nothing but an attention seeker probably amazed at how much publicity he has got from speaking inanities.

  • sherdy

    Did he actually admit that he has lost his marbles?

  • Charles_Gould

    “If you ask me one thing I could have done without in the last twelve months it’s Jamie Bryson” – social media

  • Zig70

    Social media is a game changer. I’m concerned about the infringement on an individuals free speech especially relating to your private life v work. Any small mistake you make can get amplified and the same works for Jamie. You don’t have the same chance to learn your trade if you enter the stage too soon.

  • Keithbelfast

    Wait, in his police interview tapes he categorically denied any involvement in the protests, then at this public meeting says the opposite? Hmmm, playing with fire in a police interview…

  • This one …

  • Reader

    Bryson – then David Crookes: “…..if you had an avenue into them people, then you could effectively control that whole community.” Interesting language from a democrat.
    I don’t expect he’s thinking any differently than any one else who goes into politics to pursue their own agenda. He’s just the one who has let it slip. Most of the rest would just refer to it as ‘leadership’, if they mention the matter at all.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I think that’s it. This guy has a messiah complex; he thinks he has a destiny as a political leader. Unfortunately for him he lacks the skills to effectively disguise these ambitions. That doesn’t work too well when dealing with loyalists who react badly to anyone who appears to be imposing him/herself as being in charge – which is why I suspect he and other fleg protestors go to so much length to deny that they are being leaders or trying to take control.

    The recording above should be a goldmine for the PSNI investigating team who are dealing with his ongoing prosecution for involvement in illegal parades.

  • tacapall

    Bryson is nothing more than a modern day version of a snakeoil salesman, a skiprat who will gladly swim in the gutters and sleep in the sewage if it will get him one step more up the social ladder. With a bible in one hand and a keyboard in the other this skiprat attracts attention by attempting to sell the dubious, tickets to a bygone age thats will never recur unfortunately for Bryson theres another just like him a few steps up the ladder who’s pitching for the same audience – Jim Allister.

    The PUP endorsed skiprat will dissapear the flaggers when they have served their purpose for the PUP giving them a platform until the local elections. Why the skiprat himself might even put his popularity to the test under the banner of the PUP controlled Protestant coalition. Everyone knows the majority of the flaggers are ordered to go to the protests and thats as many votes the protestant coalition and the PUP will get.

  • DC

    tacapall going by your second paragraph i do believe it’s time for your ‘new world order’ diagram 🙂

  • DC


  • Master McGrath

    This is another person who knows the words but does not understand their meaning – except within his very warped and narrow definition of whatever he wants them to mean.
    Have things really sunk so low that people take him at all seriously?

  • Carey

    Interesting choice of words: Jamie laments the day when you could “effectively control that whole community”.

    Not “represent” them. Or even – God forbid – “defend” them. Much less “inspire” them. Or simply “lead” them.

    “Control” them.

    I suspect Jamie’s problems with social media have a lot to do with LADs. Social media is a double-edged sword. Generation Y has its own battles with its own technology and Jamie has just found out that he was worsted in the game.

  • Michael McKelvey

    There is an argument that social media served during the flag protests to accentuate the differences in our society between different groups – I am thinking of the likes of LAAD versus say the often inarticulate protestors. The irony of course is that there is arguably a certain amount of shared ground – namely on both sides of the fence were and are sitting young people facing an increasingly difficult labour market.

  • Carey

    Oh, I don’t know, Michael. I’m tempted to quote Marx: “First time as tragedy – second as farce.” As an oldie, who remembers the 70s in quite horrifying detail, I don’t think the Social Media wars between the Fleggers and LADs had anything like the polarising effect of earlier generations of NI rhetoricians – including the man Jamie cites as his influence 🙂

    This is not ultimately a question of who has the gift of the gab, no matter how much Jamie believes he is deprived of his rightful place “controlling a whole community” by the accident of a lisp and an uncertain grasp of grammar.

    Jamie’s inability to capitalise on a sense of “community” is as much to do with the fact that no such “community” exists any more, at least in the sense that his role model would have recognised it, as any shortcomings on his part. Manifest, though they are. And this is equally true for the “other community”.

    Social media merely reflects this huge change. LADs are not “community leaders” either. They are just better at social media for their age group. Which isn’t mine, BTW.

    It’s interesting that we have all begun to talk about “community” at precisely the point that the conditions in place for any genuine community are under threat from all sides – due to forces which have nothing to do with NI. They are international and global in nature.

    Nevertheless, we retain enough uniqueness that someone like Jamie can be discussed as a serious representative of anything at all, even the fictitious “communities” in our heads.

  • Dixie Elliott

    Jamie will, like Dick Dastardly’s Muttley, be forever known as Willie Frazer’s sidekick…

  • Comrade Stalin


    Paisley practiced his speaking/oratory as a youth and his hardline views were built on a firm background of theological study. That’s not to defend those views; but the framework was there.

    Bryson doesn’t have this. I don’t think his (slight) speech impediment is the issue; I think the problem is that he just doesn’t have the kind of insane fanatical commitment that Paisley did. He contradicts himself routinely because he’s half-assed about it all. Paisley kept his message simple.

  • Carey

    That’s rather my point, Comrade Stalin: whether or not Jamie has the tongue of Angels or a mastery of social media which could propel him the Fortune 500, two necessary pre-conditions are not in place for him to emulate his idol.

    You have certainly identified one of them: he and his generation lack the “sand” of previous ones (and that is not say I admire their predecessors and hope for their return). Not Jamie’s fault. Those convictions came out of the non-digital age and Jamie was simply born too late to fully grasp them, except as an exercise in nostalgia.

    The second, as I have pointed out, is that the “community” Jamie thinks he is appealing to does not exist outside his head. Paisley, for all his faults and flaws, was embedded in a genuine strata of NI society which he understood very very well.

  • GEF
  • between the bridges

    ROC ”I really am absolutely baffled as to why people in the north give this immature little boy such publicity? ” Jamie is reality news, his messiahic like metaphilosophy would never make it onto such cerebral platforms as slugger…

  • Morpheus

    “The Belfast Telegraph has been told that the DUP and UUP feared that if anti-Agreement unionists – such as Mr Bryson, victims campaigner Willie Frazer, TUV leader Jim Allister and some victims – could not be convinced, then a deal could not be struck.”

    Hilarious. Political Unionism ran to the bigoted, unelected, unrepresentative mouthpieces who only exist because of the void left by the silence and lack of leadership coming from those who were elected and are paid a tidy amount to lead.

    The DUP ‘negotiating’ team were two high profile OO members (one ex-UDR and one ex-Special Branch ‘man of God’) and a reputed member of The Caleb Foundation (an organisation which objected to 2 manikins holding hands in a shop window as it ‘promoted homosexuality’) and they consulted with Frazer (who accused a primary school of being an IRA HQ because he thought the Italian flag was an Ireland flag) and Bryson (don’t really need to say anything here do I?) to boot? No doubt Winkie and McDonald got their calls to ensure Haass didn’t impact their ’empires’ as well.

    I can’t for the life of me think why the talks failed…

  • Alan N/Ards

    ” ex UDR and ex Special Branch”. What is your point? No mention of ex IRA at the talks.

  • Morpheus

    You are of course right, there were ex-IRA at the talks yet they opted for progress and compromise – what does that tell you?

    I mention ex-UDR and ex-Special Branch because it shows the mindset of those involved (the Never Never Never, not-an-inch, No Surrender mentality) which is not representative of Mr and Mrs Joe Public.

    Do you think they would have put the needs of the people ahead of the wants of their organisations? Evidently not.

  • Alan N/Ards

    The fact that they are OO members is important to the debate. The fact the they had been members of the army and police is not. Not all ex security force members are anti progress. Just like a lot of ex provo’s are not anti progress. It’s looks like you are trying to tar all ex security force members with the same brush. I personally take offence to this as my late father was ex security forces and he had no time for the likes of Donaldson and Gibson. Catch yourself on. You forgot to mention that they are both Presbyterian. Sure aren’t all Presbyterian’s the same?

    Do I think that yhey should have put the needs of the people first? The answer to that is yes. I have read the Haass report, and while it’s a bit of a pigs ear I would go with it.

  • Morpheus

    That’s not what I was saying. I was combining the two to show a particular mindset ie. OO+UDR and OO+Special Branch.

    To be clear, I think that the vast majority of the security forces served with bravery and distinction. I know because I had an uncle who was RUC and a fantastic guy

  • Alan N/Ards


    “OO+UDR and OO+Special Branch”. Could you explain what that means?

  • Morpheus

    You are focusing on a small part of a much longer post but yeah, no problem. Say we have 2 guys, one UDR and one UDR/OO. Both serve their country but one of the 2 also felt the need to join a fraternity which is more anti-Catholic than it ever was pro-Protestant and that tells me that they have different mindsets.

  • Alan N/Ards

    I’m still struggling to see your point. As I said before, the OO part of your argument is the important bit. Trying to equate every member of the UDR and Special Branch with the OO is wrong. Absolutely wrong. It really does look like you are saying every ex UDR and Special Branch member is against progress. If you can prove this then fair enough. If you can’t, then have the decency to withdraw the comments.

    I would just like to add that I personally struggle with Mervyn Gibson. In fact I know many Presbyterians who agree with me. He is an embarrassment to many of us.

  • GEF

    Anyone know what type of Presbyterian Minister is Mervyn Gibson, Is he Free/P, Reformed/P, Non Subscribing/P, or belong to the main Presbyterian Church?

  • Morpheus

    I made it quite clear that I was not talking about every Special Branch and UDR member. I said, again quite clearly, that those who also felt the need to join a group which is more anti-Catholic than it ever was pro-Protestant shows me a much different mindset/mentality.

    My point was that the guys who were chosen to represent the DUP, the largest unionist party, have much different mindsets to Mr and Mrs Joe Public and would not put the needs of the people ahead of the wants of their organisation.

    But I think you knew that

  • Alan N/Ards

    He is mainstream Presbyterian. Alas.


    Have they the same midset as every ex member of the UDR etc ? If they hadn’t had been members of the OO would you have mentioned their past security force membership? I am not a fan of the OO and have been very critical of them in the past and will continue to be so when necessary, but you appear to be trying to link the OO and UDR and SP as if dual membership was the norm. That is what I’m reading from your posts.

  • Let’s come back to the topic of the post: how has social media contributed to NI over the last year or two?

  • GEF

    GEF: He is mainstream Presbyterian. Alas.”

    Thanks Alan.

  • fordprefect

    I think social media has contributed greatly here this past year or two, especially all the You Tube clips of that woman screaming “NO SURRENDER” through the broken pane of glass on the door at the city hall. Cheers me up every time I watch them!

  • FitzJamesHorse has written up a very comprehensive post about the panel and discussion in December, and he touches on some of the points being discussed above.