In Era of Controlled Political Message, Gerry Adams is a Breath of Fresh Air

“Cats can swim 2. Im in bath. With rubber duck. Yellow.  I 4give u 4 taking keys. Enjoy ur swim. Good luck 2 Loughgiel hurlers 2day.”

It’s the sort of writing that straddles the fine line between brilliance and insanity, its meaning as contradictory and bizarre as the individual who wrote it. It’s the Infinite Jest of Twitter accounts, and the enigmatic author is Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, one of the largest political parties in Ireland. He’s better known for his former activities however, namely being an alleged key player in the I.R.A., which understandably has tainted his public image; he has received much hate mail and public scrutiny in recent years regarding his suspected involvement in several murders.

And then, well then there’s his Twitter account, which takes everything anyone thought they knew about the man and turns those notions on their head. Instead of imagining the plotting of terrorist acts, we’re treated to tweets of him taking a bath – not just any baths though, “sudsy” ones, accompanied by a plethora of rubber ducks. I’m not kidding about the ducks. Its content is so utterly strange that most initially wrote it off as a hilarious fake account — that is of course, until Gerry quite proudly declared it to be 100% real.

In the era of the tightly-controlled political image, Gerry Adams offers a breath of fresh, decidedly unfiltered air. Instead of a highly orchestrated series of market-tested branding campaigns ran by a dedicated social media team, Mr. Adams personally tweets out whatever he wants to talk about, be it his recurring dream about Cadbury creme eggs or lamenting the struggles of being a teenager in love. It’s a fascinating, if severely disjointed running commentary on the man’s life, one that needs much analyzing to even begin to comprehend its meaning. The majority of tweets are at least somewhat cryptic, and taking stabs at deciphering them has become something of a national sport In Ireland. His Twitter has developed a cult following over the past three years, garnering at the time of writing a whopping 92,000 followers – over twice the following of the Irish prime minister.

When it comes to Twitter subject material, anything is fair game for Mr. Adams. There are a number of recurring themes, namely his vast collection of rubber duckies. Yes, really. A teddy bear named Ted features prominently, who allegedly baked the Northern Ireland prime minister a cake. A person simply referred to as “rg” is also a frequent star; most @GerryAdamsSF scholars agree that he is probably some sort of personal aide for the Twitter celebrity, who famously took Mr. Adams’ keys once by accident. If he’s not having an epsom salt bath or snapping pictures of his “dindins”, he’s sharing anecdotes from his job as the elected representative for Louth and party leader of Sinn Fein. Most of these tweets focus on visits to his constituents, cheering on various Hurling teams and stories from the Irish Parliament — such as the time he mistook a toothbrush for a pen, and brought it onto the House floor.

Perhaps even more remarkable than the absurdity of his tweets is the incredible rehabilitation they’ve had on his reputation. It’s difficult to dislike an elected representative who tweets about how cozy he is in his onesie, let alone picture him orchestrating IRA executions. The truth is, behind the crazy jumble of teddy bears, numerous baths and rubber duckies, there is a very coherent, likable personality. Some in the press have deemed his tweets to be a sophisticated publicity stunt (and if it is, it’s a damn good one). Mr. Adams has decried such accusations, asserting that the account is just “a bit of craic” — and for what it’s worth, I believe him. There’s too much personality and wit for it to be some sort of calculated marketing maneuver.

Call it mad, call it brilliant, call it a stunt, call it whatever you like — but you can’t call it boring. His twitter activity has certainly behooved the man; he is talked about quite fondly amongst younger Irish generations, akin to a crazy uncle, which is in stark contrast to just a few years prior. Sinn Fein (his party) has risen in spite of improbable odds to become the second largest party in the polls, and if the numbers keep going the way they have been in recent time, this rubber duck fanatic has a decent shot at becoming the next Irish prime minister — which many find to be a disquieting (although admittedly hilarious) prospect.

It probably won’t happen, but with Gerry Adams, you never quite know what to expect.

7 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post, as I studied in Belfast for quite a while! With Gerry Adams being such a controversial figure, I think it’s a risky choice to run his own social media campaign. That being said, I think it’s the best move for him. After the decades of incredible tension and Adams (and the IRA) watching their every move and censoring every comment, I think it shows a degree of progress that is needed in Northern Ireland. However, I’m glad he’s sticking to lighter topics on his social media! And I would agree with you in saying the posts are completely genuine- my sister met him in a park with his grandchildren- and he had just the same type of humor and wit in person! Thanks for the great blog!

  2. This was intriguing! It’s interesting to see how personalities/actors/politicians/athletes present themselves over social media. Take Trump for instance, his Twitter coincides to his political personality – brash, aggressive, and without any fear of judgement. It might not actually be Trump tweeting, but it seems genuine enough. Gerry Adams on the other hand, definitely takes a unique approach to Twitter as a politician — it’s fresh, different, humorous, and laid back. I agree with you that it’s refreshing, especially with the amount of political tension happening behind the scenes. One would never know that there was any, with an account like Adams.

  3. This seems like an effective method of gaining recognition if not necessarily the support of the younger generation, as you mention. Likewise, I also agree that it a great way to distance his IRA reputation from his political career. I’m curious whether most politicians strive to create a unique “brand” or reputation that sets them apart from other politicians. Obviously, candidates need to do this when they have aspirations of running in major elections. But for those already in office, I feel like they would like prefer to stay relatively undifferentiated, so to speak, and not stick out from the crowd so much. Perhaps his unique social media handling is an indication of future political ambitions…or maybe we are just so skeptical of politicians these days that it is so difficult to take his online activity as an honest extension of his personality with no strings attached.

  4. Very amusing and unique post!  I think this is just a man having fun with twitter and realizing that people actually want to read about his absurd life with ducks.  If it was planned from the beginning, it would seem to have an underlying agenda.  These tweets certainly do not have an underlying agenda other than perhaps giving attention to this man who so clearly desires it.  

    This brings me back to discussions in class about what would happen if we posted on social media about our true daily lives instead of the usual highlight reels.  Well, here is someone who does just that in a weird and slightly amusing way and, somehow, people love it!

  5. Very enlightening and entertaining post. Adams has undoubtedly made himself more accessible / relatable in the political spectrum. The onzies and rubber ducks communicate crazy uncle for sure. As a strategy it is rather ingenious; look at Trump and his much protested SNL stunt, each skit was a satirical under punch at the candidates credibility but it is null in void if the candidate is contributing to humor, prompting the question; is the joke on us?

  6. wow – I know absolutely nothing about Irish politics, but I am completely intrigued by your post. The way he is using social media almost reminds me of people like trump and snowden… they’re not America’s sweethearts, but they’re using social media to make them seem more relatable, more human – and as a result they gain an enormous following and become popular. I really like this post, it’s thought provoking and its refreshing to hear about other social media/political celebs outside of the U.S.

  7. What an interesting guy! I suppose Donald Trump has a somewhat similar approach – he also says whatever seems to be on his mind and is not even slightly apologetic for it. Of course, his rants are nowhere near Gerry’s, who, as far as I can tell, is basically a troll… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kt6rRNANSgI

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