Poor wee Dougal Alexander, he was hayin a guid moan at the £100 per head Labour List Conference at Dartmouth House in Mayfair this week. That’s 15.4 hours work at the minimum wage for a half day conference. I guess they weren’t wanting any of those working class types turning up and lowering the tone. No, this event was purely for the Labour Party elite to address a compliant press and didn’t Dougal do well? He got a piece in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Drum, Huffington Post, The Spectator and Politics.co.uk.
What Dougal was moaning about was that it is “getting harder for politicians to campaign in elections because of conspiracy theories on social media.” As most people realise, what he really meant was that it is getting harder for politicians to lie during election campaigns because the collective minds of the internet users, facilitated by social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, quickly expose those lies and broadcast them around the planet at lightning speed. Of course there wouldn’t be an issue if the politicians told the truth, but lets follow Dougal’s thread.
He continued that because of social media we are confronting “a politics where people’s social media feeds can be an echo chamber for, at best, their own opinions and, at worst, their own prejudices.” So there are NO FACTS on anyones’ Twitter or Facebook (unless they’re Labour facts of course). There are only rumours, opinions and prejudices.
Let’s look at some facts then. During the independence referendum we were subjected to a relentless stream of “news”, almost all of it against the concept of independence. This stream was delivered to our living rooms by the likes of the BBC, STV and almost all newspapers. It is remarkable that anyone voted for the idea at all and the main reason for that was the 5th estate: social media, independent websites and blogs. Now that the referendum is over the fifth estate has turned its attention to the general election.
It is an amazing thing this 5th estate. It is a collective, a hive mind, ever watchful. Always scrutinising all of the output from “traditional” media. Dissecting and analysing the words and meanings of every politicians’ speech and press release. Debating politics in real-time in cyberspace. Organising and protesting, even driving the political agenda.
This is the politics of the people in its rawest, purest form. It is a very powerful thing which is making the establishment scared. That is the real meaning of Dougal’s speech: Labour and the establishment is scared of the power of the 5th estate. So they will try to spread that fear and use it to their advantage and they will use the “traditional” media to do it.
Barely a week goes by without some “vile cybernat” or “troll” headlines. The normal pattern is like this:
- Someone posts a derogatory, slanderous or ill-advised comment on a well-known person’s timeline
- This is picked up by all of the users of the site and spread far and wide, almost instantly
- The “traditional” media make political hay. Favourite adjectives are vile, disgusting and hateful
It is VERY easy to become a troll: a couple of sherberts, then typing what you think and pressing the post button without checking what you are saying first. Boom. Trollmageddon. We have been there with some ill-advised comments and the reaction is not nice. Apologies are not necessarily printed alongside the offending item.
But a far bigger problem is the damage that it does to our cause. The “traditional” media have a field day over it. They paint every independence supporter as some kind of sub-human Neanderthal and they always insinuate, rightly or wrongly, that the trolls are SNP members or supporters.
What we have to remember is that not everyone is connected to our 5th estate. There are whole generations of voters who only receive their politics from the “traditional” media. If all they receive about the independence movement are a load of “vile, disgusting cybernat” stories then that is what they will think about us.
“So what?” I hear some people say. We need these people if we are ever to achieve our dream, for in their midst there are soft unionists. People who we may be able to persuade that independence is indeed the natural state for our nation. We will never achieve that if we allow the “traditional” media to influence them with a few ill-considered comments. Let’s try not to give them any more ammunition.