Saturday 4 May 2019

Banning r/me_ira: What happens when you drop the /s?

Reddit occasionally bans controversial subreddits, chiefly based on moral decisions. A few examples would be digital cesspits such as r/beatingwomen, r/incels and more recently r/watchpeopledie.

r/watchpeopledie was removed the day following the horrific 2019 New Zealand mosque mass shooting, where it had posted videos glorifying the violent event. There is a similar thread to last week's banning of r/me_ira.

r/me_ira was a place for witty user created content about The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The name comes from r/meirl, a popular subreddit with self-deprecating memes, looking at the funny side of being a depressed millennial. r/me_ira was followed the same concept, with the same grisly humour managing to dovetail perfectly with the Northern Ireland mentality.

I must admit, I have enjoyed and laughed many times at the memes, with razor-sharp critical commentary and political satire on the events in Northern Ireland. However, the 'Irish' sections on Reddit have always been populated with Irish-Americans, and this is where the problems started with me_ira.

I've written about how our native gallows humour predates The Troubles, citing Flan O'Brien as an example with his seminal masterpiece, The Third Policeman. I wonder if this humour can be interpreted as some kind of coping mechanism? Either way, it's clear that this particular subreddit was misunderstood by many Irish-American posters.

The sarcasm of this parody subreddit was utterly lost on these trolls, and their ridiculous pro-IRA contributions were largely ignored and downvoted. As people from Northern Ireland, we like to laugh at ourselves. r/me_ira offered a Hole in the Wall Gang approach to the historic conflict issues for the post-Good Friday Agreement generation. By contrast, the pro-IRA posting from mostly American Redditors failed to embrace the self-deprecating nature of the subreddit, attempting to stir up Republican action from across the water in some kind of self-righteous Hollywood crusade.

There is a lot to unpack with this kind of internet behaviour. We see a common theme run through all right-wing/nihilist/extremist/alienated cesspools across the Internet. The predominant use of memes is perhaps one of the weirdest things to investigate. Easily sharable and instantly recognisable, they offer simple punchline opinions with often funny or cartoonish imagery, disguising their actual negative implications. It's easy to understand how the humour in a subreddit like r/me_ira would be misinterpreted as one that glorifies violence and nationalism, as opposed to one which condemns it. In the end, it appeared that few could distinguish between this fine line, and an ever-increasing controversial contribution from right-wing 'plastic paddy' America led to a full ban.

Like most subreddit bans, the ban on r/me_ira was triggered by the reaction to a horrific event: the murder of Lyra McKee. One of the few moderators of the subreddit commented:
'…it is good it came to an end. It was filed with yanks as many others mentioned and trying to ban all the ignorant folk was hard. The jokes got repetitive, and it went from okay to dog shit when Lyra McKee died (rip).'
'Parody turns to support when the educated craic dealers are switched with ignorant yanks. Fun while it lasted, but I guess that's another Irish sub freed of yanks.'
They are referring to the harsh criticism of McKee and the glorification of the idiot children who shot her. One American 'Fenian' commented 'No one should care about a Fag Journalist'. It's so strange to witness a comedy subreddit evolve into the very thing it tried to parody. We are surely better off without it.