Speaking today in Kildare on the subject of Neknominations, Local election candidate Fiona McLoughlin healy welcomed the statement by Minister Fitzgerald.

“I welcome the statement below from Minister Frances Fitzgerald that the recent deaths of 2 participants in an online drinking game Neknominations is evidence of our society’s broader need to address our binge drinking culture.

However, the tragic deaths of these two young people highlight more than a problem with our attitude to drinking in Ireland.

Public nominations and the pressure brought to bear on the nominee not to break the chain of Neknominations highlights the unfettered power of social media to undermine our right to privacy.  No-one should be allowed to publicly nominate anyone who has not consented to playing the game. Our expectations of privacy in recent years however, have plummeted as much as our acceptance of what is public and publishable has increased.

Proponents of social media argue that if someone or place or thing is public then it is fair game for publication. So whether you are drinking, sunbathing, arguing or debating in public then you are fair game to be recorded on the nearest Smartphone and published on social media. By virtue of being in public you are consenting to any publication of your public self.  I disagree enormously with this point of view.

Traditional models of privacy are based on different scales of privacy and publication being possible.  In the past if you were at a small family get-together as opposed to an open air-concert you expected a different level of privacy. What you said or did could be repeated i.e. published to others but the impact of that publication, be it good or bad, would be linked to how private or public the context.  As a teenager if I played “spin the bottle” late at night with a small group of friends in a friend’s house, I didn’t expect it to have the same impact in terms of publication as if I were playing it in the middle of Eyre Square in Galway during the Galway races.  Traditional expectations of privacy or of publication then are inextricably linked to context. And our behaviour is modified to match that context.

We, all of us have many selves that we present.  We are a gentler, softer self as Mum or Dad when playing with our kids and are hopefully more professional and well-spoken when making a presentation at work.  We have different selves that we present based on the context. Traditionally, we have had the freedom to be more or less guarded, more or less polished, more or less funny, sexy, in control, weepy, dorky or impeccable depending on the situation and the people with whom we shared it. Whether we like it or not, social media and online publication has taken away our freedom to act in whatever way we choose to be appropriate at any one time. Important expectations of more or less privacy based on setting are denied to us by a black and white definition of what it means to be “in public”.  Now, if you’re in public your image/comments/behaviour are publishable to an unlimited number of people around the world.  This is simply wrong.

I was on a late night flight with my young children last year.  Exhausted, they fell asleep on the seats beside me, all legs akimbo and the little one’s knickers were showing.  Not for one second, in this tiny cramped space did I think that they were vulnerable to “publication” because they were “in public”. To my horror, I looked up from my book to find a young woman smiling at me while taking a photo of my children. Despite me asking her not to take them, I subsequently discovered that she had posted the photos to Face Book.  Because she thought they were cute.

Just because you are in public does not mean that I consent to, a publication I could not have conceived of, before the advent of smart phones. We need to protect our right and our children’s right to privacy.  It’s equally as valuable as the right to publish.

Neknominations have tapped into the untamed power of online publication to create an unprecedented level of peer pressure for a 2014 version of spin the bottle. The bottle is pointed at teenagers and young adults online in the most public of ways. The pressure to not break the chain of nominations is unimaginable.   The owners and management of social media networks have a responsibility to help protect the rights and freedoms of the people on which it depends for its survival.   At the very least, given the pressure than can be placed on nominees to participate.

Neknominations should not be allowed to nominate people who have not consented to being nominated.  Stand up for your privacy online. Make Neknominations stop.


Minister Fitzgerald expresses concern on “Neknominations” online drinking game

Risks of Neknominations highlighted by Minister for Children & Youth Affairs

Minister Fitzgerald: “Online drinking craze is only a symptom – let’s tackle the cause.”

Minister for Children & Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald has condemned the “neknominations” online craze as “not only dangerous and potentially harmful to young people – it is evidence of our society’s broader need to address our binge drinking culture”.

Neknominations – a social media-driven craze in which people film themselves downing alcoholic drinks before nominating friends to do the same within 24 hours – is, according to Minister Fitzgerald “not a game. It is a highly dangerous – potentially lethal – phenomenon, where an inappropriate peer pressure element adds to the risks.

“Above all, it represents further evidence that we still have a long way to go in denormalising binge drinking among Irish youth.

“Young people take their cues from our broader society’s general attitude to drinking, and the popularity of Neknominations shows we still have a long way to go in developing a healthy societal attitude to the consumption of alcohol.

“Rather than focus solely on the symptoms, we must work together to tackle the cause, and I echo the very sensible calls by Irish youth organisations and alcohol awareness groups to find effective ways to change our alcohol consumption patterns.”