NI violence 'organised on social networking sites'

26/01/10

Mural of the Ulster Freedom Fighters

Youth workers and politicians in Northern Ireland are warning that social networking sites are being used by Catholic and Protestant groups to organise violence.

Some web pages on sites such as Bebo have profiles showing young people in balaclavas holding guns and rifles.

They often support banned organisations like the Continuity IRA and show videos of clashes with the police while calling for a united Ireland.

There are loyalist sites as well and both sides post insults taunting the other.

Bebo has told Newsbeat that all inappropriate communications are strictly forbidden and it will remove anything considered illegal.

In a statement they said: "We will remove materials which we consider to be illegal, defamatory, fraudulent or which infringe or violate any party's rights."

'Propaganda'

Mark (not his real name) is a youth worker in Craigavon. He didn't want to be identified for fear he'd be targeted by paramilitaries.

He said: "You can see all the recordings when there is rioting. And they're taping them on their mobile phones, put it on the sites and the kids see it so they can recruit and keep control."

Strategies need to be developed so that young people are not lured by godfathers of terror into those organisations
Alex Attwood from the SDLP on the use of social networking

A youth worker said a teenager Newsbeat spoke to was part of a gang called the mini-Continuity IRA, who use the web to spread propaganda.

Just before Christmas it's claimed a riot in Belfast was organised on social networking sites, pitting Catholics against Protestants.

Alex Attwood is from the SDLP and says he fears paramilitary organisations are using social networking sites to recruit.

"Small numbers of young people in the nationalist community may now be involving themselves in dissident paramilitary activities, parading guns or doing more than that," he admitted.

"Strategies need to be developed so that young people are not lured by godfathers of terror into those organisations and that young people are fully aware of the consequences of getting involved in all of that."

Dissident groups

On what's known as the black paths on the estates in Craigavon, many of the pubs have no windows.

It was to help protect against bomb attacks and shootings. One we pass has barbed wire round the roof.

Almost no one was about apart from groups of drunk teenagers drinking Buckfast and vodka. Many boys support the paramilitaries.

"I think the paramilitaries are looking after us," one said. "They are keeping this estate safe. I hate the police, they stop us from doing things. Police are scums. We believe in a free Ireland."

Pro-IRA graffiti
Image caption Paramilitaries on both sides are trying to show that they are controlling crime

Pro-IRA graffiti is sprayed on the walls around the estates. A printed sign says: "Anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated - The Republican Movement."

A policeman was shot dead in Craigavon last year with the dissident republican Continuity IRA claiming responsibility for the murder.

A 17-year-old's among those who have been charged with the killing.

Paramilitaries on both sides are trying to show that they, and not the police, are controlling crime.

Dissident republican groups hope this will draw support from Catholic communities - loyalist paramilitaries from mainly protestant communities.

Some girls on the estates said they supported them.

"I'd rather paramilitaries than the police," one admitted. "It's just how it is round here. It's what we've been brought up to believe."

The police say they don't monitor internet sites on a day to day basis but say they'll take action if they're made aware of a crime.