‘We behave in certain ways to get attention’

The debut author discusses growing up with social media, getting harassed on the internet, and becoming “terminally online”.  

Social Capital: Life Online in the Shadow of Ireland’s Tech Boom explains how Ireland became the centre for tech multinationals – and how social media has become central to our lives as a result.  

Out now, the debut book by journalist Aoife Barry explores the biggest issues online, including racism, content moderation, and online harassment.  

Ms Barry told On the Record with Gavan Reilly that it’s difficult to replicate everyone’s individual experiences on social media.  

“If both of us logged onto the assorted apps and sites that we both go onto, even if they’re the exact same apps we’d still have completely unique experiences,” she said.  

Despite that, Ms Barry still found several trends in how social media affects how we behave.  

“It’s all very specific things,” she explained. “If you look at something like Instagram, it’s an image-based platform so there’s an aesthetic idea; every image you put online has to say something.” 

“As Instagram developed people wanted to share nice images, people still wanted photos to be beautiful but also have this story.” 

Meanwhile, the status-update platform on Twitter encourages users to create “pithy small, short ways of little tweets to tell you what you’re doing”. 

“Before I’d go around sometimes and something and I’d think ‘I could tweet that’,” Ms Barry said. “I’d know what to say – and now these days I literally have to stop myself tweeting.” 

“A big experiment” 

Ms Barry said there are also unwritten rules created by users all over the world.  

“We see things emerging and think, ‘I like that way of behaving’, or ‘this way gets me a reaction’, because there’s a virality aspect to these apps too,” she said.  

She compared her generation to a “big experiment” online, learning how to develop a “relationship with the Internet by following the rules laid out by people who didn’t really know what they were doing either”. 

Weaving a story 

Ms Barry said she wanted to explore the journey that has brought us to the digital landscape we have today – both from others’ experiences and her own.  

“I’ve written a lot about Dublin and my relationship with Dublin,” she said. “And obviously I’ve been terminally online and working in digital media.” 

“I do weave my own online journey, not to make it sound too interesting: ‘girl goes on the internet when she’s a teenager, stays on the internet for twenty-odd years’.” 


Social Capital also addresses Ms Barry’s own experience with online harassment, not to bring attention to herself, but to analyse how it happens.  

“At the start [harassment] didn’t feel like anything unusual,” she said. “Of course it was going to happen.” 

“It’s only now over 10 years later that you realise that you’re naive when these new things happen. We didn’t realise the impact of everything being available online.” 

You can buy Social Capital: Life Online in the Shadow of Ireland’s Tech Boom here or in-stories.  

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