Social media take liberties and are weaponised by the élites. Worse still, however, they persuade too many people that petitions, marches and high hopes are enough. In fact, social media demonstrate – despite themselves – that electorates divided by cynical political strategies cannot regain power by virtual pressure alone.
A bloke I used to know in advertising was complaining about the price of his wholefood Turmeric Latte mix on Facebook yesterday. Another consideration dividing the Basefookers was whether one should serve Yorkshire pudding with Christmas dinner or not.
The more I read this kind of stuff on social media, the harder I find it to give credence to the idea of Brits taking to the streets about the Brexit betrayal. Drilling into the data makes it clear that Facebook merely confirms the existence of “Two Nations” in the UK.
Only 44% of the population go onto Facebook every day – and regular usage is heavily biased to younger demographics. OK, between the ages of 18 and 54, some 37 million Brits are regular visitors to the site, but that still leaves 29.7 million Brits who aren’t – and 13 million who never use it.
Those latter Brits tend to be more downmarket and/or older. To a large extent, Facebook is about skills and affordability in relation to access to protest. It is younger and more middle class than the population as a whole. The 56% of people who rarely or never use it are the new Silent Majority. Many of them are the grounded – and in some cases ground-down – folk who voted for us to exit from the European Union. In contemporary social data terms, they are an unpredictable group about which we (and the mass media especially) know remarkably little.
The last time somebody trod on the toes of these, the Left-Behind people, was March 31st 1990. The subject was Mrs Thatcher’s ‘community charge’ (aka Poll Tax) designed to bring poorer rentpayers into the funding of local council operations. The hard-left organisation Militant Tendency organised and spearheaded a demonstration in London to oppose it.
However, even with this demo (which predictably turned into a riot) there are several factors to bear in mind. First, the weather that day was unseasonally clear and warm, so whereas 60,000 were expected, 200,000 turned up. Second, without Militant’s involvement, the march would almost certainly never have happened. And third, police were in Kindergarten school when it came to riot control thirty years ago. In London especially, they have shown that it is now very difficult for any rioter to outwit them, because they are armed with various weapons, they have much better surveillance technology, and they can more easily identify activists.
There are further observations that would tend to give the authorities confidence when it comes to any serious disorders in relation to Brexit. First, like most of the Cabinet, the harder Left today in the shape of Momentum is opposed to it. Second, many of those who voted for Brexit are older. An abnormal proportion of them don’t vote at ‘ordinary’ elections: essentially apathetic, they saw the referendum of 2016 as an easy way to kick the Establishment up the backside. Third, many older women cheated of their pensions at age 60 see that as a far more important issue than Brexit, and spend what little activist time and money they have on SPA protests. Further, the younger more gullible end of the age spectrum are, like Momentum, in favour of any deal that keeps Britain close to “our EU” as they keep mysteriously calling it. And finally, the Brexit boredom factor is now almost off the scale. A great many people on both sides of the apples v pears debate feel, not far below the surface, that whatever happens, it isn’t a case where – suddenly – they’ll be asked to find £1,200 in 1990 money.
None of these are what you’d call ‘tinder box’ factors. Indeed, it is the Facebook-committed generation itself that tells us where the mainstream mass is in their heads, man: relatively cosy, distracted by Christmas, materialist, prone to social bragging, and tired of the media obsession with votes, deals, confidence motions and Parliamentary procedural pantomime. They may be only the 44%, but there is no solid, unified mass among those who resent how that Other Half live.
A lot of commentators take their lead from Twitter in the UK, where Brexit has been almost the only game in town for months now. But Twitter is – for all its high profile – woefully unrepresentative of UK demography and attitudes. It only has 12.6 million UK-based users (a significant drop from its heyday) and is heavily skewed towards 16-22 year old usage – something which perhaps explains the at times unutterably childish inability of users with strong views to do anything beyond transmitting third-hand propaganda.
Twitter is also crammed with armchair revolutionaries, ever-ready in spirit to man the barricades….but held back by weak flesh that would rather just stretch on the sofa and sink another beer.
Because Twitter has become far more of a political than a social media site, it lacks the across-the-board stretch of Facebook – which for many of us now is merely the best way of finding out what our kids are up to…..but not somewhere likely to take much notice of econo-political and philosophical notions. The quickest way to get hits on Twitter is to preface a link with ‘Brexit drama/shock/bollocks’ and so forth. To get the same outcome on Facebook, show a cat dressed up in a tuxedo.
But again, there is a lesson here: 44% of all adults using Facebook regularly to daily, compared to 9% for Twitter. Social chit-chat and family material is five times more mass-market than political debate, anger, activism and insults. Britain remains a nation where marches, demos and riots are conducted by “other (perhaps somewhat suspect) people” 99% of the time.
The trick employed by the establishments over the last fifty years has rarely changed: that is, to keep the Couldn’tGAF segment (and those most likely to vote for their political arm) convinced of their continuing comfort. Sadly, in the UK it seems to be a winning formula. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have had nearly a decade of ignoring SPA embezzlement by Whiteminster alongside blatant government lies about everything from the rate of inflation to the number of people living in Britain.
To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, “You can keep all of the people in clover some of the time or some of the people cosy-warm all of the time, but you can’t pauperise all the people all of the time”.
There’s truth in that, but it oversimplifies the formula for socio-political stability. What developed societies have now is a ruling class equipped with the media, taxation models, weaponry and surveillance technology to discourage dissent and reward acquiescence. Unless an effort is made soon to aim for the greatest fulfilment of the greatest number of citizens, then no society can remain stable once a certain level of highly restricted privilege has been achieved in the context of real poverty.
The last time I visited South Africa, I was struck by how the Zuma régime’s corruption had attracted foreign capital without doing anything for the mass of ANC voters. Creating a giant, perfectly manicured golf course for Whitey on the garden route in Noetzie – right next to a township without clean water or electricity – sort of sums up why the sans culottes triumphed in 1789.
The Bourbons, Romanovs and Soviets failed to recognise the inevitability of violence against repression. The Euronauts and the Neoliberals will be next, unless they change tack. The Sun King Emmanuel Macron is already feeling the heat.
But We the People must act sooner rather than later. An appalling global financial disaster is coming. If the élites emerge from the other side of that with their technology not only intact but also mercilessly repressive (thanks to Federica Moggherini et al) the struggle will be long and bloody.