N-word tweet has briefly silenced the 'Shinnerbots'
Published 04/05/2016 | 02:30
The most striking feature of the Gerry Adams N-word controversy over recent days was not the fact that the Sinn Féin leader kept digging; it's that his army of online militants fell silent.
For a long time, Sinn Féin has had a difficult relationship with the media but the advent of social media opened a window for a more sinister element to try to hijack debate completely.
The 'Shinnerbots', as they are commonly known, are well organised, nasty in the extreme and often twisted in their views. They have no room for facts or old-fashioned analysis of the situation - instead they attack based on instinct.
Any criticism of the party or its leader leaves a commentator open to vitriolic and incessant abuse on Twitter.
It's become so common that it is now par for the course. A daily nuisance that is best ignored and written off for what it is: orchestrated intimidation.
So it came as no surprise when in the immediate aftermath of the 'Django Tweet', the Shinnerbots rushed out to insist that Mr Adams's account was hacked.
The claim was based on nothing more than a blind belief that the Louth TD is infallible.
There was no way that he could possibly have thought, never mind tweeted, something so obviously ignorant and ill-judged.
In fairness to Mr Adams, he was quick to issue a statement admitting some fault, even if he does continue to claim the context of the tweet was legitimate.
And then came the silence. Not a peep from keyboard warriors who seem to sit around all day waiting for a simple typo or a mundane observation to seize upon.
There was no grand defence of Mr Adams but neither was there any condemnation.
If this was the leader of any other political party, senior colleagues and grassroots members would be quick to distance themselves from his statement.
But that's not the Sinn Féin way. Their online followers condemn all around them but never their own - no matter what the context. Most people accept, and I think rightly so, that Gerry Adams is guilty of many things but not of being racist.
It is strange that of all the hot water Gerry Adams has landed himself in over the years, this was the incident his supporters chose not to back him on.
When he was arrested in connection with the murder of Jean McConville, it was 'political policing'.
When he was criticised for his response to Mairia Cahill's story of rape and kangaroo courts, it was her that became the target.
And when he compared himself to Rosa Parks, it was the media's fault for hyping it up.
The Shinnerbots, who are not necessarily party members, will find their keyboards again but 48 hours of silence tell their own story.