Twitter’s Fenian Street HQ was a powerful place to be in the mid to late 2010s.
The cockpit of the social media giant’s European operations, a generation of activists that came of age during the 2015 Marriage Referendum accrued immense influence over corporate policy, content regulation, and officials, often through the medium of the NGO world.
Among those driving the era were former Department of Justice official Sinéad McSweeney and RTÉ journalist turned Storyful executive Mark Little, front in centre of a Twitter clique that shaped the liberal wave of that decade.
The Burkean has already hinted at the below-the-surface espionage common between Twitter and NGO class against right-wing activists, with Twitter earning a bad rep for its partisan bias and dodgy dealings even among the domestic silicon sector.
With Musk cleaning house and the now rather infamous and by all accounts acrimonious dismissal of McSweeney, plus Little’s departure to Kinzen it is high time to speculate on the future of Twitter’s Irish branch.
True to form, Musk has stirred the pot by tweeting his opposition to looming hate speech legislation, responding to Keith Woods no less, with the tweet echoing its way into the halls of power.
As job layoffs compound, and Fenian Streets declines from its former high standing, it is worth thinking of concrete ways Musk, if he is so inclined, could turn the knife on Leinster House and wider EU plans for hate speech regulation where Dublin’s compliance is key.
1: An Irish Twitter Files: Mimicking disclosures globally, a dump of information relating to backroom dealings between Twitter and the state from 2011 on would be a good opening salvo to any standoff.
Our elite, more than most, live and breathe through the platform with covert actions around the time of lockdown and abortion/gay marriage referenda no doubt revealing an array of requests and political manipulation Dublin would otherwise want to be buried.
Even airing the sycophancy shown by the IDA and state departments over the corporation’s tax regime would cause red faces around Leinster House. Twitter and its control of information has the payload on its would-be Irish political masters in any future clash if it started lifting rocks.
2: Professional Block: Twitter since 2011 has offered a professional fresh start for many Irish civil servants escaping the state sector. A ban on any new hires from the Irish State on the grounds of hate speech legislation would (slightly) dampen the resolve of the system to implement these laws and represent the most meaningful financial impact Twitter could have on the regime rank and file.
3: Failure to Comply: Similar to the use of the Irish Data Commission to target Facebook by the EU, Irish regulation is a proxy for a far larger game of political censorship. As evidenced by a 2019 Oireachtas hearing between Twitter’s top brass and TDs, so-called hate speech is the top issue when it comes to future relations of the company in Ireland.
A complete refusal to comply with hate speech legislation or a similar Digital Services Act foisted on Twitter by Europe would be ideal brinkmanship against regulators who want to take the whip hand over Twitter for their own ends.
Considering its lack of any backbone when it comes to foreign direct investment, the Irish State has far less leverage than its EU counterparts when it comes to Big Tech enforcement. Musk is not dealing with a leviathan when he is dealing with the Merrion Square clique but an unsure comprador class.
4: Jumping Before Pushed: By all accounts Twitter Ireland is a sunset operation running down the clock before automation and worsening political conditions force an exit. Leaving now and slamming the door on the way out before regulators have cannibalised operations would make a statement for any future Big Tech investment here.
Ireland forged a name for itself as a social media hub in the post-Crash period and now seeks to segway into becoming a world leader for hate speech moderation. Causing as much structural damage to Official Ireland, and its hope of future FDI would represent the maximum scarring Musk could inflict in a year-long very public decoupling from Ireland.
Ultimately trusting Musk to come to our political salvation is a doomed stratagem. This however does not preclude helping to escalate any internal strife between the State and one of its most lucrative corporate sponsors.
As evidenced by the Irish state’s split from Paddy Cosgrave, disgruntled members of the Big Tech community can become miniature nightmares for the establishment due to the leverage they have over such a weak state. Some form of hate speech legislation is inevitable at this stage, but with the right outcry and downright corporate blackmail it can and will backfire on our political establishment far too big for its boots when it comes to political censorship.