On these pages we frequently take the time out to celebrate the genuinely positive things which come from social media, such as the force for good that was Stephen Sutton and the unanticipated impact of the no-make-up-selfie movement.
Every now and then however we have to comment on the darker side, the way that the democratisation of publishing and communication is exploited in the service of what can only be described as evil. Because a lot of non-evil people are getting suckered in, being used to spread reach and support for the organisation Britain First – whose Facebook Page likes are currently growing at around 8000 per day.
Other than masters of social media manipulation, who are Britain First? They are a registered political party under the leadership of one James Dowson, who split from the BNP to form his own movement some years ago on a platform of evangelicism, anti-abortion, anti-islam and anti-immigration homophobic hate campaigns. They drive around in military jeeps outside mosques handing out alcohol to fuel mobs recruited from the EDL, and have links with violent extremist groups in Northern Ireland.
None of the above facts play too well on social media though, so how have they become the fastest-growing UK political movement in Facebook history, with over 300k likes – more than the Conservative, Labour and UKIP pages combined? [UPDATED: UKIP growing too fast for this statistic to hold up now] And generated levels of engagement – the ‘people talking about this’ factor – that would leave most brand’s social media managers wringing their hands in envy?
By using simple, emotive viral content, which people click ‘like’ and ‘share’ on – without stopping to think about the cause they are actually promoting and spreading.
Love Diana? Support our troops? Revere the D-Day heroes? (You know, the guys who died fighting fascism 70 years ago..?) An endearing image, a catchy meme – how can you NOT click ‘like’, unless you actually disagree and support paedophiles, right?
In the run-up to the recent European and local elections in the UK, millions of UK residents will have been exposed to a piece of Britain First content – more than buy physical copies of newspapers such as The Independent or The Guardian in any seven day period. Combined with the context of the rise of far right groups in other parts of the continent, and the most cursory reading of the history of the past century, this should make every thinking person’s blood run cold.
“Oh, but I don’t ‘do’ politics” / “I don’t care what they stand for I was touched by that photo” / “Halal just sounds so cruel and I love animals” people wail, when you call them out on sharing content from this evil violent fascist hate-filled organisation.
Well, then you are as much a part of the problem as the people creating and sharing this content in the first place. In some ways you are worse, because those who actually believe in are easy to spot and eliminate from my friends list.
It’s the people I know to be basically good compassionate humans, but think it’s OK to share this stuff, which make me want to weep. They don’t realize they are being cynically manipulated to spread a campaign of hate – how did those fallen veterans consent to the use of their image in this way? Why have the family of Lee Rigby had to undertake legal battles to stop Britain First exploiting the name of their murdered son, on their election campaigning material as well as their social media content? There is nothing this group will not do, no depths they will not sink to, when it comes to exploiting misery and division to fundraise for their campaigns of hate.
Every time you like, share or comment on a Facebook post by Britain First, you create a story in your newsfeed, and spread their reach and their message further. You help them fundraise for their violent oppressive demonstrations and campaigns, you help them threaten peaceful people at worship, you help them beat up gay people, spread poison and divisiveness, you help them fuel ignorance and hate.
Please do not misunderstand me, everyone’s party political views are their own. I enjoy friendship and dialogue with many people whose opinions on many matters I am fundamentally opposed to, or have little interest in. Unlike Britain First I embrace and celebrate diversity and difference, and intelligent discussion of different points of view – heaven knows the world is in a mess right now and I have no grand opinions on the best way to fix it, talking about ideas with people whose ideas challenge and push at your own is a good way of developing solutions.
But it is that frustration at traditional party politics, the anger at austerity, the fear of further loss, that is being exploited by the far right – again.
If you share content from Britain First because you believe in what they stand for then fine, unlike that organisation I actually respect your right to that opinion – let’s go our separate ways and be done with it. Please remove me from your friends list, if I have not already done so recently.
And if you were suckered by their sugar-coated emotive linkbait into sharing something that no-one could disagree with, and you now regret it, you know where the delete button is
(if you don’t – it’s here)
If you have friends who need to read this and make up their own minds about where they stand on disseminating hate propaganda, do consider sharing this post, either on your timeline or as a comment on the content they have shared.
Thanks for reading.
[UPDATED 10-7-14] Not sure whether to laugh or cry over the latest cynical bandwagon jumping by Britain First. They must have had this meme out within about an hour of the press announcement of the unexpected death of one of the UK’s lefty comedy icons. I am sure the friends and family of Rik Mayall have better things to focus on right now than this exploitation following their sudden bereavement, and I am sure the man himself would be roaring with indignant laughter,
About as hilarious as their invocation of Gandhi on their page yesterday as well. Apparently on account of his animal rights positioning – well, so long as we’d never let him through customs and immigration.
Rebel in Paradise Rik, thanks for all the laughs over all the years.
Reproduced with acknowledgements to Costa Connected.