Never Mind The Social Media Bollocks

Matthew David Scott explores social media’s role in the EU referendum.

Matthew David Scott is a novelist, playwright and founder member of the award winning theatre company, Slung Low.

Have you seen the remake of House of Cards? If you did, and you liked it, something just as good and tailored to your personal viewing preferences is probably on the way.
House of Cards was commissioned using viewing data. This data suggested that viewers who liked the original BBC House of Cards also liked the films of Kevin Spacey and David Fincher. So, Netflix stumped up $100m to make the first two seasons of an all new House of Cards with Kevin Spacey and David Fincher. Everyone’s a winner, right?
I mention this because of all the post referendum talk in Wales (so far), one thing that has struck me is the whole ‘Turkeys Voting For Christmas’ thing. I didn’t like that narrative. It felt narrow, simplistic and mean. It felt misanthropic. It suggested that those who had voted Leave didn’t know what they were doing. I refuse to believe that. Most people made a choice and they had their reasons.
Then I saw a post listing the things that the EU had paid for in Wales and one of the first comments I read began with the word, “Bollocks”.
Now this wasn’t someone who didn’t have the necessary information; this was a person being presented with a list of real things that are in the world yet simply refused to believe that they existed. It made me shudder. I’ve recently come back from a stint in the USA and this is exactly where political discourse in their perma-scream of news media has been for some time:
  • Redefine the term elite to mean anyone with actual expertise;
  • Redefine balance to mean any opposing opinion now has equal weight to the facts;
  • Redefine the notion of a trusted source to mean a source that confirms what you already think.
Stick with this and pretty soon you have free reign to believe whoever and whatever you want. Yet it doesn’t make anybody happy; it makes them even angrier. Post Truth Politics they call it, and it looks like we have it now too. Hooray!
So what’s this got to do with House of Cards? Well social media plays a major part in things such as Brexit doesn’t it? On Facebook and Twitter we can all be experts. There we can become trusted sources of information at the click of a share button; receive instant feedback on our views from a carefully self-selected audience. And, of course, if someone disagrees with us, we can just delete or block them. Coupled with this are the powerful algorithms working beneath the newsfeed that present us only with things we might already like, already prefer. Surely pretty soon we too are creating our own reality and our own truth. And we too are getting really, really angry. But does social media play as important a part as we social media users would like to think? Isn’t that it’s own type of echo-chamber? Was social media the reason for the prevailing mood of mistrust in our national institutions? No. Our institutions have managed that all on their own, thanks.
People voted Leave for all sorts of reasons, not least the reason of coming to the honest conclusion that they thought Britain was better out of EU. But as far as I can gather, a lot of people also voted Brexit for the same reasons that dominate most people’s lives: jobs, health, education and housing.
If for election after election you are asking the same questions: why your wages aren’t going up, why you can’t get an appointment at your doctor, why your schools are stretched to breaking point, why there are no affordable places to live; when you’ve been promised time after time that these things are going to get better but they don’t, what happens when someone does seem to give you an answer, you know, an answer like it’s all because of the EU? Whether this answer is based on outrageous lies or or not, it’s an answer.
Yet the Remain campaign seemingly had no answer to these questions. Or none they were willing to make a part of the main thrust of their argument. Perhaps this is because the economic creed that most of the Remain team follow is the actual cause of why wages haven’t gone up; why health and education services are creaking; why no affordable housing is being built? Maybe that’s why they seemed to refuse to engage with these embarrassing questions and instead hammered on about the possibility of economic collapse; all this despite the group of people waiting for an answer being the very same people who paid the heaviest price for the last economic crisis and the same who have yet to share in any of the so-called recovery.
Whatever Brexit we end up with, it is still not going to be the answer to those fundamental questions. And I genuinely worry where the people tired of asking them will turn next. So if we want to fix things, maybe making sure people don’t have to ask those questions ever again might be a place to start?

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