On Friday evening a newsfeed piece from the Daily Express appeared on my Facebook page. I don’t usually use Facebook news streams as it is complete tripe, but for a flight of fancy I clicked it.
The story was about five people climbing out of the back of a van, allegedly near the Dartford Tunnel. Aside from it being quite bizarre that someone chose to film a lorry in a traffic jam on their phone, the immediate story, without any evidence, was that these were people smuggled from France. The piece describes this story five times as ‘shocking’ and that it was a ‘stream of migrants’ getting out of the truck . Yet at the very bottom of the piece it says that they have no idea who the people were in the back of the van, when it was filmed or who filmed it since no one has come forward to say the took the images.
So a story with no witnesses, which cannot be verified and which the police cannot look into, about five people getting out of a truck on a road now manages to get huge publicity because, with a couple of inverted commas around certain words, manages to become a piece about smuggled foreigners. Whilst it may or may not be true, both the language used and the assumptions made, make it all feel like another stitch up job playing to the base instincts of an unpleasant readership and society.
So I put up a comment on my Facebook page asking where I could complain about this article to which, unknown to me, was a public rather than just to friends, post. Now I don’t know how, but it seems that it found a much wider audience than I have ever had for any post I have ever done before.
Here is a selection of my favourite comments .
It is still rumbling on. Yet there are four things I have taken on board from this experience.
1) Digital has a lot to say for it all this hatred and ever widening anger against everyone and everything. Once upon a yore these highly aggressive and unpleasant people were just the weirdos in their villages that couldn’t find any friends. You know the ones, the frothing, red faced ones that sit at the bar in the local pub spouting out uncomfortable remarks every time someone that doesn’t look or act like them walks in to get a drink. If you don’t know them it probably means it is you. Now they get on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram and they are able find all the other outcast raving loons from all the other villages. They sit in a digital circle and all agree with each others crazy theories and nasty views giving each other legitimacy for having such opinions. Then you have a movement. Once you have a movement you start having followers; once you have followers you have believers; once you have believers you have voters; then deniers; then conspiracy theorists; then cultists, then vigilantes; then revolutionaries.
The Brexit vote gave these angry nasty people a legitimisation and, between the soft government sops and the dreadful media reporting, makes them feel they are the ones in control now. Cue Trump, UKIP, AfD, Le Penn and a host of other angry extreme parties. The silent majorities are just that. They never get as passionate, they have too much else to do in their lives. But the village loon who is retired or unemployed/unemployable does have lots of time on their hands to keep creating hatred and spreading bile. And then that bile becomes even more legitimised because it is popular and the circle goes round and round.
2) Michael Gove was accurate when he said that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. But it is not just here, thanks to digital, it is everywhere. Once upon a time an institution or an expert view carried more weight than the individual. It may have gone too far at points, but that paternalism from those who had spent years gaining a good education or studying intricate detail of complex social policy was aimed at making the world a better place. Yet now, an expert view carries no more weight than any of those who have posted on my Facebook page in the last 72 hours. And organisations like Britain First whose only expertise is to pander to racism carry more populist weight because 1.5million people get their updates on Facebook compared to 20,000 who get Stand up to Racism content.
3) Politicians and much of the educated social commentary still fail to see or recognise or try to understand the massive rump of society that voted Brexit or will vote Trump and spout racism and homophobia without a care. Orwell got it bang on in his book 1984 where the masses were lined up to have their daily two minute hate – 120 seconds being angry at a target identified for them by the government. In reality, that stopped happening after the end of the Cold War. There was no Emmanuel Goldstein to boo at and that bogeyman vanished until Osama. Now he is dead there is Islamic State. But where Bin Laden had a face to hate, Islamic State are an organisation without a front man. So now people just hate Muslims. Or foreigners. Or anyone who doesn’t look or act like them. And while May and the government, with such a wafer thin majority, play to this agenda without understanding it, the Labour party navel gazes at itself and the Lib Dems sit piously by sniffing down their noses at the whole unpleasantness. Worse still, none of these parties have an idea or ideology of how to change this and have failed to create a new agenda or bogeyman for people to channel their hatred into that is more productive than race hate crime. And now Brexit has happened, it will only make matters worse as the two minutes of hate can be aimed at anyone who lives across the Channel.
4) There are lots of very angry white middle aged and older men around who didn’t get good grades, who can’t hold down a job, whose wife dislikes them and are all desperate, truly desperate, to blame others for their ills. Many of these men would be blue collar at best; many are ex-military who, in days of recent past, would have been the infantry slaughtered like sheep on the field of battle. Some will have been made redundant due to globalisation and cheaper labour in SE Asia doing the stuff they did for half the wage they asked for. Some made redundant by robots taking their job. Some, like miners or steel workers, because their type of job just doesn’t fit in today’s western society any more. Others because they think they remember a better Britain from the days of empire. Many are very bitter, destructive and bilious and ready to blame liberal lefties, the elites, foreigners, Muslims, southerners, London, Europe – anyone, anything – except themselves for the plight they, or their families, have got themselves into or the hand they were dealt.
The divide has always been there and is the same in almost every other Western society. But now those on the angry side have a much louder voice, it has legitimisation and it has teeth. Democracy is now truly finding her real position in society, one of the people, for the people and by the people. One that oozes distrust and selfishness and hate and violence. And one that no one seems to have an answer of how to combat.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether the article was true or not. It fed the believers and added another drop of poison to the already overflowing cup of insensitivity, intolerance and hate. This is not just the Britain of today. It is the America. The France. The Germany. And it is set to get a damn sight worse with the forthcoming elections in all of these countries in the coming year and the rampant, expansive, unstoppable digital/social media phenomenon that permeates every facet of society.