Misinformation is rife these days. This is nothing new.
However, far from throwing a spanner in the works of a hitherto transparent and orderly process, the Internet and social media are now exposing the soft underbelly of a system that has always been elitist, fundamentally mendacious and flawed.
I cast my mind back 36 years to the first time I ever voted. It was 1983. I was nineteen years old. Britain had just been through a brutal and, in my view, unnecessary military conflict with the Argentinean junta in the South Atlantic. The Conservative government of the time, despite grueling austerity at home and race riots on the streets, was basking in the glory of this tin-pot military victory, which was broadly and uncritically reported in the press. Meanwhile, most newspapers launched a vicious often deceitful propaganda campaign against the opposition Labour party, tarring it as pacifistic and unpatriotic. Anyone who opposed the war, for whatever reason, had good reason to be fearful. It was not uncommon to be beaten up by gangs of right-wing thugs for espousing such views.
One year later, I was fully politicized by the year-long miners’ strike. It was not the strike per se that motivated me—I did not live in a mining community—but rather the obviously duplicitous propaganda that was put about by the Conservative government of the time through its loyal press. This hurt my innate sense of fairness and truth.
In those days, there were only two TV channels in the UK and these were routinely accused of bias by the government and/or opposition despite bending over backwards to be impartial or at least non-partisan. I was 18-years-old when Channel 4 was launched as the first genuine alternative to the state-run BBC and the private TV stations funded by commercials, known collectively as ITV. I remember what a breath of fresh air it was to have a novel more nuanced perspective coming from Channel 4 at that time.
Nearly four decades later, it is hard to imagine that sense of excitement at the appearance of a new TV channel and a new news outlet. Nowadays, we are spoilt for choice, not only by ‘official’ 24-hour streaming news, but also by unofficial publications put out by all and sundry on YouTube. Few of these propose nuanced or fresh points of view. In fact, many are cynically designed to perpetuate pre-existing prejudices or purvey conspiracies and outrageous opinions to a more mainstream audience.
Such is the starkness of this contrast that it is easy to imagine that there has been some enormous rift in the social fabric. But, in fact, no such thing has occurred. The Internet and social media have merely accelerated an age-old process and made manifest a phenomenon that had long lain hidden, albeit in plain sight, before the advent of this new communications age.
And although this new online discourse may provide somewhat greater scope for proselytizing and the persistence of insular mentalities, it is substantially no different from the kind of discourse that was previously bandied about in living rooms and saloon bars across the country, often spurred by spurious opinion pieces in widely-read highly partisan tabloid newspapers.
In fact, by exposing the true ugliness underlying the process by which ideologies are created, social media present us, for the first time in human history, with an opportunity to truly change ourselves for the better this time and embark on a more enlightened age.
The role of social media in bringing about the worldwide surge in populist politics over the past decade is vastly exaggerated. This is a pity, because the scapegoating of Twitter or Facebook distracts attention from the real causes of the current state of anomie: the moral bankruptcy of the right and the failure of the left to put forward proposals that rectify the shortcomings inherent in globalization.
Instead of concentrating its efforts on this, the left kow-towed to neoliberal economic consensus, ignored those excluded by the global economic system and focused its attention instead on identity politics, envronmental issues and minority rights. As a result, it alienated a large portion of those who used to support it, making these hapless individuals easy pickings for a newly emboldened extremist right. The failure of the left to create a hegemonic movement encompassing all those excluded by late capitalist society is a tragedy whose consequences have yet to fully play themselves out.
It is perhaps, however, still not too late to pull back from the abyss.
This Thursday, British citizens eligible to vote will go to the polls to elect a government for the fourth time this decade. As a disenfranchised expat, I will yet again not be among them, but I will, as has become something of a tradition on this blog, give my own views as to how I believe Britons should cast their vote.
On few occasions has the mendacity of one party been so transparent as it is today. Thanks to the Internet, it is relatively easy to correct Tory lies with a quick online search. I urge people to do this and not to vote for the Conservative or Brexit parties at this election on the grounds that they are morally unqualified to govern.
On the other hand, I understand the wariness of voters with regard to the Labour Party, which disappointed its natural constituency so bitterly when it was in power in the late 1990s and 2000s. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has, however, shown that a truly radical progressive approach to politics is not only still possible but in fact more urgently needed in this cynical age and that such proposals can be presented in a pragmatic fashion that stands up to the intense scrutiny that a world awash with mass data entails.
In this election, therefore, I urge people to vote Labour or to vote tactically for other parties or independent candidates in constituencies where these stand a better chance of ousting representatives of the Conservative Party.
On previous occasions I have urged British citizens to vote rationally, each according to his or her own interests, and I have not publicly favored any one particular party. On this occasion, however, it is in no-one’s interest to perpetuate the rule of the current UK government and I therefore urge everyone to vote for opposition candidates.