Social media changed my life, says Sinéad Burke

8 Jul 2016

Sinéad Burke on stage at Inspirefest. Image via Conor McCabe Photography

“If I could speak to 16-year-old me… and tell her what the internet has done for me, I think she’d be really proud.”

So said Sinéad Burke in her powerful keynote during the social media session at Inspirefest last week (30 June).

Discussing the influence the internet and social media has had on her life, activist, writer, PhD student and little person Burke revealed how, as a fashion-obsessed teenager, she “never felt included in the conversation [in fashion]” due to her physical difference.

“People didn’t take me seriously because of my physical aesthetic, so I started blogging… and calling out the [fashion] industry,” said Burke.

Describing the internet as a “friend”, Burke explained how seeing the reporting around the death of L’Wren Scott – who was a fashion designer – in which the media consistently referred to Scott as ‘Mick Jagger’s girlfriend’, annoyed her so much she decided to take action.

“So, I emailed a number of women who I considered extraordinary and asked if I could interview them without sensationalism.

“[I told them] I will not ask you about your husband, I will not ask you about your children, I will not ask you how you achieve a work-life balance and I will not ask you about fashion or what you wear to work… unless you’re a fashion designer.”

Since writing those emails, Burke has interviewed Oscar nominees and fashion designers, as well as an array of other “amazing” women.

Burke also explained how the internet has been a huge tool for her, as a little person, to raise awareness and for activism.

She described how discussing online an incident of street abuse she experienced led to her being contacted by the gardaí.

“They asked me would I meet with their head of diversity, which I did two weeks ago. Having done so, in September I am going down to Templemore, to the training college, to meet with the next generation of gardaí… so I hope change will come from that.”

In the last year, she has appeared on The Late Late Show and been asked to speak at schools, among many other amazing achievements, including recently being named as a ‘30 Under 30’ one to watch by both U Magazine (for her role as an activist) and the Sunday Business Post (as one to watch in tech).

“Often social media can get a reputation of being very negative… but for me it has been a powerful source to amplify women’s voices… and I’m so fortunate that it has had such a monumental influence on my life, and I know for sure I wouldn’t be here today [speaking at Inspirefest] without it.”

Speaking in an interview after her keynote, Burke had one piece of advice for those who may be wary of using technology or social media: “Go for it”.

Who knows where you may end up?

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Brigid O Gorman is a former sub-editor of Silicon Republic.