Being outraged achieves nothing

I’ve been feeling politically weary recently. Two referendums, a general election and a Scottish election is a lot to pack into 3 years. This week I’ve seen a couple of threads on Twitter which have had very different emotional effects on me. I’m beginning to suspect that the emotional lurches are taking their toll on my energy levels.

The first one was this:

(If you’re not familiar with Twitter, click on the post above, and you’ll be able to read the entire thread).

It certainly pulled me up short reading someone’s personal account of what the tory benefit changes are doing to them. And of course, I was outraged that there seems to be so many folk willing to vote for a party that does this to people living in Britain.

Shortly after that, Edwina Currie tweeted something that I felt was utterly vile:

This is an ex tory MP questioning whether that kids are going hungry in the UK today. Of course there are all sorts of people calling her out on her claim, and asking her to justify her comment. But she doesn’t respond to those who make reasoned arguments. Her only response seems to be to pick up on someone who was abusive to her.

So what is going on, that despite endless lies, rapid changes in policy and direction, claiming one thing one day, and the absolute opposite the next, and numerous MPs being under investigation for electoral fraud, the tory party looks set to substantially increase the number MPs they have in Westminster.

There appears to be  a process going on here, and it’s not pleasant. Simon Brooke talks about what he’s seen here:

People have been opening social media accounts purely to post anti-independence information, and lambast those who post in favour of independence or against Brexit. There are numerous accounts with no details/names with just a few followers, which post nothing other than right wing rhetoric. Accounts which spew out lies, and become very adept at never defending themselves – you ask a question – they counter it with another even more preposterous claim. The conversations go round in endless circles. If someone pulls their argument to bits, they just stop responding, and move on to the next ridiculous claim. They don’t end up with any greater understanding of one another – all that happens is that tempers are frayed, and people become ever more entrenched in their own viewpoint.

Image ©

Simon Brooke’s thread has a ring of truth about it – certainly if the democratic process is no longer working, those of us who believe in democracy, equality and freedom of speech are fast running out of options.

So how can we combat the disinformation that is being spread? I’m beginning to think we’re asking ourselves the wrong question –  perhaps the question is ‘do we need to combat disinformation’? There’s a theory that says that people are not persuaded to vote a certain way based on facts, but based on their own emotional reactions to what they see and hear. If that’s the case, could this be why recent polls are failing to show any dent in the tory’s popularity? The repeated expression of outrage and indignation from those who object to the right wing approach is far from attractive…

The online trolls who disseminate false information get plenty of reactions, the retweets and reposts come thick and fast – so their false messages are spread ever further. Remember the brexit bus and the slogan about £350 million for the NHS? It seems that the whole of the UK is aware of that statement – and for many many voters they believed it to be true, despite all the people who responded and quite logically pulled it apart. Because of course most people don’t click on a link to see the whole conversation. If something appears on your newsfeed, you’re pretty likely to move on to the next item unless it really piques your interest. So our outrage, and our efforts to correct the falsehoods had the completely counterproductive effect of promoting those false message for the Brexit camp. If we want to stop the lurch to the right that’s currently gripping the UK we urgently need to stop playing their game.

I remember what happened in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. There was a great sense of hope, positivity and camaraderie in the Yes camp at the time. There were all sorts of creative things happening to get the message out – Yes cafes, Yestival, the Hills Have Ayes, Yes Bikers, Yes boats, Mums for Yes, the National Collective… and so much energy and engaging discussion. And of course there was this guy, having a bit of a laugh at the expense of a group of Labour MPs who dropped in to Glasgow briefly to tell us to vote for the union in 2014:

During that referendum campaign many many people were drawn to voting Yes. I’m quite certain that was often an emotional response. What’s not to like about positive people with an upbeat message – an ever increasing crowd who have the courage to vote for constructive change, and the belief that things can be better than this?

We find ourselves in a similar situation in the run up to this general election. The tories message is unchanging on some levels – they are in control, and they will do their utmost to disenfranchise voters who aren’t in the rich club. If that means electoral fraud, or an overnight switch from a ‘Brexit is a disaster’ message to ‘Brexit will be wonderful’, then that’s what they’re prepared to do to line their pockets and those of their friends. We only have a matter of weeks now to save our public services from destruction – if the tories are voted in with a massive majority they will continue to sell them off one by one. I suspect they’ll be starting with the English NHS and including it in a trade deal with the USA. There’s suggestions they’re already preparing the ground for a system that relies on individual health insurance for medical care.

We need to work fast to change our approach, starting with getting savvy about different ways to encourage others to think about their own motivations for voting in a particular way, without inadvertently helping the right wing with their social media campaigns.

It’s time to ditch the indignation and get creative!

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