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Citizen Journalists and the European Elections

Ahead of the European Elections, Dr Shane Murphy examines the rise of citizen journalists.

While not necessarily household names, a number of candidates in the upcoming European and local elections began this campaign with sizable social media followings, as a result of their work as “Citizen Journalists”. Focusing predominantly on areas such as immigration, LGBTQ+ communities, and Covid-19 lockdowns, they have been able to establish themselves as trusted news sources to their followers, who are skeptical about the information they receive from institutions like the government and the mainstream media.

Citizen journalists present themselves as being free from the political biases and corporate influences that apparently influence traditional news. They are often one-man operations, making use of existing social media platforms to spread their message. Their output typically comprises unverified media and digital artefacts which have been sent to them, such as screenshots of anonymous text messages and unsourced videos purporting to show acts of violence being committed by immigrants. It is also not uncommon to see videos they’ve shot themselves of protests they attend, often with live commentary, or videos of themselves shot on a front facing camera, with their thoughts on issues of the day. Much of their “investigative” work consists of videos of vehicles, buildings and people deemed to be “suspicious” as well as filmed confrontations with Gardaí, politicians, journalists, immigrants and Irish people they believe are immigrants.

Citizen journalists are, of course, not held to the same standards as mainstream journalists and are unlikely to have received any formal training or have prior journalistic experience. There is rarely any clear demarcation between news and opinions, meaning unsubstantiated rumors are reported with the same weight as verified facts. The outsider status of citizen journalists, combined with the unpolished quality of the content they produce, gives them a veneer of authenticity, which understandably appeals to those who are distrustful of mainstream news sources. They can effectively present themselves as being beholden to no interest but their own (although in many cases, their income depends on subscriptions and donations from their audience). This has allowed a number of citizen journalists to start their election campaigns with a dedicated online base who are already sympathetic to the candidates’ messaging and distrustful of their establishment opposition. Here, we profile some of them.

Derek Blighe

Derek Blighe is the leader of the Ireland First party, and is running for a seat as an MEP for the Ireland South constituency, as well as a seat council seat for the Fermoy constituency in Co. Cork. Blighe currently has over 20k followers on X, 12k followers on Instagram, and just under 6k followers on his Telegram channel. He is a bricklayer from County Cork who emigrated to Canada in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. He returned in 2019 and set up Ireland First, a series of social media channels that reported on immigration and leaned heavily into messaging suggesting Irish people were deliberately being replaced by non-natives. He describes himself as a nationalist, but denies that he is far right, based on a definition that equates Far Right and Anarchist politics. He supports smaller government, lower taxes, less restrictions on freedoms, denies climate change, wants to defund NGOs.

The accuracy of Blighe’s work as a citizen journalist has been challenged on a number of occasions, including incidents in which he described six religious brothers attending a conference in Cork City as “African military-aged males” who “fit the bill or plantation”, claimed that school children in Drimnagh would be sharing a building with migrants, and stated that it had been “100% confirmed” that a migrant had attempted to abduct an 11 year old girl in Kenmare. On a stream that was viewed by over 130,000 people during the Dublin riots in November 2023, Blighe claimed that it had been “confirmed” that one of the children who had been attacked earlier that day had died, a claim that spread quickly and was repeated by other citizen journalists with similar political alignments. Blighe is currently being sued for defamation by a Cork businessman.

Despite this history of sharing false stories that could contribute to fears about Irelands migrant population, a recent campaign video uploaded by Blighe claims that he does not want to “run a campaign on fear”, but rather, that his campaign is about hope. Much of his campaign output reflects this, sharing videos with supporters he’s met while canvassing, or talking to his followers about the difficulties of campaigning (e.g. having less time to see his wife and kids). Nevertheless, this aspirational campaign messaging is at odds with his citizen journalism, a contradiction which is made clearer by the fact that both pursued through the same social media channels. In recent days, a number of claims have been made on his X account (the account through which most of his work is done today, as he appears to have abandoned his Telegram channel since beginning his campaign), that rely on unverified information, but are in service of narratives that contribute to alarmism about migrants. These include a screenshot of a message about an incident in which a group of migrants, described as “them dirty sexual predators”, are accused of “eying up” young women in a Lidl, and a series of screenshots and images of migrants, with messages warning that they are attempting to lure girls into their apartment, and referencing a rumour that they grabbed girls last year but that “everything was kept quiet”.

A video filmed on the streets of Mallow was also recently uploaded, in which Blighe claims that the town has seen an increase in anti-social behavior and “potential” violent attacks. In this video, Blighe names a local property owner who owns a building currently being used to house asylum seekers, mentions other properties he owns, and refers to rumours that he is currently renovating other properties of his. It is notable that in much of the content Blighe is publishing himself, he is careful to couch his language in more restrained and careful terminology. The video from Mallow, for example, does not say there has been an increase in violent attacks, but an increase in “potential” violent attacks. He cites a source for the claim that anti-social behavior in the town has increased, although this source is people who have called into Cork’s RedFM, and he never claims the local property owner will be allowing more of his properties to be used as sites for asylum seeker accommodation, although this is clearly what is being inferred. This level of caution is common among much of his recent output, with phrases like “It has been reported to me” and “it has been alleged” frequently appearing.

However, much of the more overtly extreme and xenophobic content shared on Blighes account is not directly produced by Blighe himself, but rather shared via X’s repost feature. These include a video of a DJ set in Berlin, in which the audio has been edited to a song titled “Auslander Aus” (Foreigners Out), a post shared on the fourth anniversary of George Floyd’s passing, in which the media is accused of lying about his cause of death, and a photo of a medical vehicle parked outside asylum seeker accommodation in East Wall, with a message complaining that doctors will drive to immigrants, but that “Irish people get no such luxuries”. He also regular shares content about crimes committed by migrants, including a video showing the aftermath of an attack in London in which a 66 year old woman was killed, and a woman from Newtownmountkennedy, sharing a story about her sister, who was killed by a migrant 21 years ago. He has also shared content specifically targeting migrant and non-white candidates running in the upcoming elections, including a post containing images of poster’s for local election candidates, Josh Ellul, Darragh Adelaide, Sarah Adedeji, and Khair Ullah, accompanied by a caption stating “Establishment political parties are rushing to get as much diversity into office as possible. Irish people didn’t fight for independence for centuries to give it away to foreigners”.

Philip Dwyer

Philip Dwyer is another MEP candidate from Ireland First running in the Dublin constituency, and is also running as a local election candidate for Tallaght Central. Prior to this, Dwyer worked as a postman, founded the hiking group Men of Ireland Trek, and ran as a candidate for the National Party in the 2020 General Election. Like Blighe, Dwyer is a citizen journalist who believes that mainstream media are repeating government talking points, and have failed to hold those in power to account. He has almost 24k followers on his X profile and an active Telegram channel with 3.6k subscribers. Dwyer is a controversial figure whose actions have received mainstream media coverage, most notably for giving a speech at Ashling Murphy’s graveside in which he claimed her death was being weaponised by the government, media, and NGOs to “distort the truth”, an incident which appears to have led to his expulsion from the National Party. More recently, a video of Dwyer went viral, in which the Ireland First candidate was unable to respond to activist and local election candidate Darragh Adelaide in Irish, before accusing him of being “sent by an NGO”. He was also charged with engaging in criminal behaviour after confronting staff of a Dublin creche about a poster containing a picture of a rainbow in 2021, a charge he described as “another attack on journalism, freedom of expression”. Dwyer’s journalistic credibility has also been called into question on a number of occasions, including an incident in February 2023, in which he falsely claimed construction workers had assaulted two protestors at a building site. An attached video did not show any assault taking place, but rather, the man filming the video repeatedly asking the worker to hit him, to which the construction worker responded “Why would I bother?”. He also erroneously “confirmed”, while livestreaming from O’Connell Street during the Dublin riots, that a young girl who had been attacked in Parnell Square earlier that day had passed away.

Dwyer’s citizen journalism often takes the form of livestreams, some of which last over an hour, in which he shares his thoughts, often on location at demonstrations or outside sites which have allegedly been approved for accommodating asylum seekers. A common theme throughout these videos are attempts to engage with Gardaí, journalists, other candidates and migrants themselves. Dwyer’s attempts at debate are frequently rebuffed or ignored, an outcome which he generally frames as his would-be interlocutors being afraid of the truth, or evidence that they are hiding something. A recent example of this can be seen in a video uploaded across his social media channels, in which he follows Irish Times journalist Kitty Holland while filming her, accusing her of “gaslighting the Irish people” and “practically” calling Ashling Murphy’s boyfriend far-right.

As his platform is almost entirely centered on the issue of immigration, Dwyer’s campaign benefits from his continuous reporting on anti-immigration demonstrations and crimes committed by migrants. In a recent 20 minute video recorded outside St John’s House Tallaght, Dwyer describes the building as a “people trafficking centre”, and speculates that “up to a thousand” asylum seekers may be being housed, based on information he claims to have received (later in the video, the source is revealed to be X/Twitter). The video has received over 13,000 views in less than two days, and at the time of writing has been retweeted 125 times. Another video recently shared by Dwyer on X included the description “Reports say a number of non-Irish males entered the bar and badly beat a member of staff. Also there may have been other locals injured by these men”. Despite the specifics given, the content of the video is largely about the “frosty reception” he received when nobody inside would speak with him. He says the barman he spoke with seemed reluctant to talk about the incident, and speculates that Gardai may have told him not to talk about it, which Dwyer describes as “another disturbing element if that is the case”. The source for the claim that the assailants were non-Irish is revealed to be a voice note Dwyer received, which he felt seemed “quite credible”. This video has over 15K views and has been shared nearly 150 times.

While Blighe’s campaign focused content demonstrated an attempt to present a more hopeful, positive campaign, which might appeal to more moderate voters who are dissatisfied with Ireland immigration policies, Dwyer takes a different approach. Although he will occasionally share requests for donations, or volunteers for canvassing, much of his campaign specific content consists of commentary on other candidates. While these have occasionally been issue based, Dwyer has also shared content in which non-irish and non-white candidates loyalty to the people of Ireland is called into question, such as this video , where Dwyer draws attention to PBP’s Jess Spear and Fine Gael’s Britto Pereppadan, stating “This is your example of what has happened to your country […] If you can’t figure out your being replaced, they will not have Irish people, local people in Tallaght, at heart”. He has also shared images of candidates John Uhwumiakpor and Mamy Nzema Nkoy with the caption “HELP US SAVE IRELAND” and transgender candidate Saoirse Mackin with the caption “A CANDIDATE WITH BALLS!”. Dwyer has also continued posting content to his Telegram channel, that is noticeably more extreme than what is being shared on his X or Instagram accounts, with frequent references to The Great Replacement and the threat of “Demographic Destruction”. An article posted in November of last year found Dwyer had shared over a dozen anti-Semitic posts on his Telegram, suggesting that immigration is a Jewish Plot or the Jews control the west. The article also notes that these posts were not shared on his more public X account.

Stephen Kerr and Susanne Delaney

Stephen Kerr and Susanne Delaney are independent candidates running for local office in the constituencies of Castlebar Co. Mayo, and Blanchardstown/Mulhuddart Co. Dublin respectively. While the two are perhaps not as well known as Blighe and Dwyer, their publication, The Irish Inquiry, is made a name for itself for its criticism of the government’s handling of the covid pandemic, pushing back against policies relating to lockdowns, masking and vaccinations. The Irish Inquiry describes itself as a “trustworthy and transparent media organisation, fully funded, owned and managed by the public, facilitating discussion and debate amongst great minds on issues of critical importance.” It exists across a number of social media platforms, the most popular of which is its Facebook page, with over 6k subscribers. The pairs shared GoFundMe page states that their goal is to address a number of issues, including uncontrolled immigration, corruption, homelessness, cost of living, social cohesion, crime, services and child welfare, and promises to bring the same level of dedication to their political roles, as they do to their journalism. A common theme across their campaign material is the idea that the country has been failed not only by the government, but also the opposition parties who are supposed to hold those in power to account. Kerr and Delaney have described the current situation as a uniparty, in which politicians are unopposed and unchallenged by their peers. Again, the journalistic integrity of The Irish Inquiry has been called into question. In May 2023, TheJournal.ie carried out a factcheck of a video shared by The Irish Inquiry, which suggested that to see the future of Ireland, we should look to Germany, whose immigration situation was described as a “horror circus”. The video receveied over 50,000 views on Facebook, although almost all of the key points on which the argument was being made were found to be misleading, or outright false, most crucially, the claim that 20% of Ireland population is made up of migrants – a claim that was uncited, and does not appear to be taken from any existing research.

As part of their campainging, Kerr and Delaney have produced content which smears attempts by candidates to court migrant votes as “gerrymandering” , and cast aspersions on the idea that non-Irish candidates would work in the interests of the Irish people. A video recently released by the Irish Inquiry features Stephen Kerr, speaking directly to camera, warning about election posters which have been “strategically placed” outside refugee centers. The video singles out Labour candidate Kamal Uddin, who is running against Kerr, accusing him of deliberately trying to court migrant votes. The video also states that Uddin, who previously had an unsuccessful bid for election in 2014, was “poached” by the Labour party, who get paid to take on “diversity candidates”. Kerr goes on to note that there are 100 migrant candidates running in the june 7th elections, which matters, Kerr explains, because “migrant candidates will look after Migrant Interests” and will be “keen to loosen immigration and family reunification rules even further”. The running of migrant candidates is described by Kerr as “vote fixing”. The video also accuses one unnamed sitting Mayo county councilor of spending and inordinate amount of time at IPAS and refugee centers, before asking viewers to get in touch if they have any further information about this councilors activities, and ends with a warning that “all the asylum seekers, and all the refugees who’ve landed here over the last two years will be voting”. The video has received almost 10k views on Youtube in 2 days, and further 10k views on twitter, with over 200 shares.

Susanne Delaney similarly made a 13 minute video targeting MEP candidate Umar Al Qadri. This video was originally shared with a lengthy message, which asked “Do you believe Al Qadri would represent Irish people? Do you believe this is, in any way, his intent? Do you think he has integrated? Or would he afford us religious freedoms if muslims ruled Ireland? Do you believe he may be trying to usurp the Irish and our culture and heritage?”. In another post, Delaney describes a campaign video in which Al Qadri speaks Irish, stands outside the GPO and invokes the revolutionary spirit of 1916, as “manipulation” and “gaslighting” of the Irish people. She goes on to claim “They did not die so they could see a Pakistani born Muslim using our historical monuments to his advantage”. Another post shared by Delaney titled “Irish Ride… Ukranian Passengers” discusses the incoming means testing of Ukranian asylum seekers. The post largely focuses on one Ukranian migrant who was interviewed and spoke out against this change. Delaney suggests she return to Ukraine which she claims is more affordable and has a “booming” tourism industry (while Ireland is described as “floundering”). The post goes on to chastise Ukranians for failing to acknowledge that their needs have been prioritized over the needs of native Irish citizens, and ends by warning that there will be Ukranian candidates in the upcoming local elections with “enough of their own to vote for them.” These candidates, she claims, won’t prioritise the needs of those who welcomed them. The post has been viewed on X 62k times, and been shared over 450 times.

These examples demonstrate that being independent of a media organization does not necessarily ensure freedom from biases for citizen journalists, or that there is any more truth to the stories they share. They are highlighting stories that are in service to the anti-immigration campaigns they are running, many of which are based on rumours, hearsay, and uncited allegations, without doing any due diligence to ensure their “sources” are accurate or trustworthy. Despite the lack of substance in these posts and videos, they are being seen and shared, and are no doubt contributing to a culture of suspicion and fear around migrants in Ireland. Factchecks from the mainstream media are unlikely to have any impact, as the targets for this kind of campaigning are likely to be those who are inherently distrustful of traditional news organizations. Indeed, the countless existing articles debunking the claims made by citizen journalists do not appear to have done any lasting reputational damage.

More worrying however, are the attempts by these citizen journalist candidates to convince their audiences that migrant candidates are incapable of working in the interests of the Irish population, or that any attempts to court the migrant vote – from migrant candidates or otherwise – is tantamount to gerrymandering or vote fixing. While fearmongering about the Irish governments immigration policies can at least theoretically be connected to social issues, such as access to housing and healthcare, suggesting a candidate is unable to represent the people of Ireland because of their nationality or religion is purely racist. These dishonest, xenophobic tactics have received little attention to date. The reshares and comments suggest it plays well with the candidates existing audiences, although it remains to be seen how this will be received by the more moderate anti-immigration electorate to whom these candidates will need to appeal, or indeed, whether they will be made aware of it all.