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By Jason Michael

Doing Scottish politics online can be stressful enough without the added stress of personal fall outs. It might be worth our whiles making some decisions about our social media accounts ahead of the next independence referendum.

People are always going to have disagreements. In spite of the British nationalists’ attempts to paint the independence movement in Scotland as a cult, supporting a one-party state, and incapable of disagreement with a single word that falls from the mouth of Nicola Sturgeon, the reality – as we all know – is something far different. Independentistas on social media fall out with one another at least as regularly as British nationalists, and I suspect this has something to do with us all being human.

It’s only to be expected that in a movement like ours, engaged in the process of imagining an independent Scotland and trying to make this a political reality, that factions will emerge. People will always have differing opinions when it comes to the sort of country we want to live in after independence. Even more immediately, not everyone in the movement agrees on the specific method or the timeframe of getting what we want. It may be a bit of a cliché – not to mention an exaggeration, but there are possibly as many disputes and different opinions as there are independentistas.

On social media these fissures are far more apparent than they are in real life. When we meet in person we always have recourse to long, nuanced conversation and all that social and psychological magic that comes with real inter-personal interaction. It’s not the same on the internet. Reality unfolds in real time and our interface with it is limited to 280 characters on Twitter, made all but impenetrable with the encyclopaedic ramblings on Facebook, all at the same time as memes are doing the rounds, non sequiturs are exploding, and trolls are chucking spanners in the works. Social media is the boiler house of modern communication, and it gets messy.

Not all of these online clashes are to do with politics. In fact, in the normal social media experience the rest of the world enjoys, it would be fair to say that most Twitter storms are personal. Just search “you ok hun?” on any social platform and you’ll see the extent of cyberspace’s virtual Jeremy Kyle Show. But Scottish social media isn’t normal, and it hasn’t been normal since 2012. This makes our no-man’s-land a tangle of public political and personal mayhem.

As far as I see it this is both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. That we have so many personal rammies is a sign that we actually know one another; that we’re not just a shower of bots and fake astroturfing accounts. We’re from the same towns, we know the same people, and we meet at the same events. We are a real flesh-and-blood community. But, and as we are all members of the independence movement, our personal beef all too often gets under the wheels of the campaign – and we can all be guilty of this. Our personal social entanglements often become our worst enemy and begin to seriously disrupt the momentum of the whole movement.

Little fractures like this might not seem so dangerous, and in the main I don’t think they are. But our movement is in the business of taking on a state. Unlike other social and political movements like the Remain campaign in the rUK and the Black Lives movement over the pond where the object is to change the state, we are all about breaking the state – and that is quite something else. This means that there are very powerful forces at play that want nothing more than to smash us to smithereens, and they have resources and technologies devoted to doing just that. A lot of money has been spent by the British government on online projects designed to disrupt our social media activity, and I suspect our public fall outs offer them an opportunity to drive their wedges in.

When it comes to campaigning some fights are unavoidable, and it’s inevitable that we’ll gravitate towards others of a similar political outlook as ourselves. Cliques and factions in the movement are a natural consequence of being a movement so large. There’s not very much we can do about these fall outs, and so long as we are still working towards the same goal we can deal with the difficulties that arise as a result. But the other stuff is unnecessary and causes us more trouble than it’s worth.

Now, far be it from me to tell anyone how to do social media. It’s your social media and you can do with it as you please. All I would do is offer a suggestion. We’re in this right now because we know we have a triple mandate for another independence referendum, and that means that one is in the pipeline. Most of us will forgive the SNP for losing another vote, but few will forgive it for squandering a mandate. ScotRef is coming. When it does come, however, we can be sure London will turn up the pressure – more than it already has.

So my suggestion is that we make a decision about our social media accounts; whether they are for campaigning or for personal use. There’s nothing wrong with having a dedicated Twitter or Facebook account for politics. In fact doing that is quite wise. Doing this would give us the advantage of more focus in what we do on that account without the hassle of personal and relationship stuff – which is obviously still important – getting in the way. It is only an idea, one that I intend putting into effect myself, and I thought I might share it. But having said this, as I have said, it’s your social media. Do with it what you will.

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The impact of social media in political debate | Mark Shephard | TEDxGlasgow


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