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By Jason Michael
WOE IS ME! During the independence referendum campaign in 2013 I decided to open a Facebook page to promote Scotland and the idea of independence. It wasn’t very successful, gathering only a few hundred members. As a Scot living and working in Ireland, it wasn’t possible for me to vote in the referendum, but independence is important to me and so I wanted to do something to encourage others to see the merits and benefits of independence. On 19 September 2014, saddened by defeat, I launched The Butterfly Rebellion website with another Facebook account and a Twitter site to promote it. The idea was to keep some hope alive. The Yes campaign had given birth to a mass movement for independence, and it would be a shame to see all that energy simply evaporate and transform into frustration and bitterness.
By May 2016 I had come to the conclusion that the anonymity of The Butterfly Rebellion was something of a problem. Sure, my identity had already been ‘doxxed.’ With what was happening with social media in the United States and in the United Kingdom — the use of military grade manipulation techniques, hasbara, sockpuppet accounts, bots and trolls by government and dark money funded public relations outfits — I had come to the realisation that online political campaigns had been stripped of integrity. Paranoia was everywhere, and the only remedy was to build trust in who I was and what I was all about. So, I came clean. ‘Jeggit’ was set up with a Twitter account and my own private blog journal, Random Public Journal, was repurposed to make the case for Scottish independence. Since then, what I have published has been read almost 1.2 million times. In anyone’s money, that’s not bad for one guy writing in his kitchen.
It turns out, however, that I am a polarising figure. Some have construed my Irish Republicanism and membership of Sinn Féin as support for violence. Of course this isn’t true, but it clearly serves some agendas — both unionist and nationalist — to undermine trust in what others are doing. But that’s the thing with political writing; everyone who speaks is polarising. Seven years after the independence referendum, what we first feared has become a reality: the Scottish independence movement, frustrated by inaction and stasis, has gotten frustrated and bitter. All the political differences we ignored in the 2012-14 campaign have been exposed. Bad actors and bad thinkers have successfully divided the Yes movement into hostile and trigger-happy entrenchments, to the end that the independence movement is eating itself alive.
No one in the maelstrom was ever going to walk away unscathed. Wee Ginger Dug and Wings Over Scotland took very different paths, Bella Caledonia and what was National Collective went back to feathering their nests — and more power to them, and the Scottish National Party simply settled down to a life of empty promises and political comfort in post-referendum Scotland. Those in the movement left unrepresented by this new status quo began to sink into despondency until the launch of Alba, whereupon all of these disparate groups came together under a new political umbrella. But this too could be nothing but an uneasy alliance; those who prioritised the acceleration of independence and those who prioritised gender critical feminism found themselves in the same camp. Even among the independence fundamentalists there were factions; abstentionists, republicans, civic and ius soli nationalists, Parnellites and more radical Connollyites — a political marriage made in hell.
All the while — with, in, and behind all these tensions — the discussion was driven on social media; on Facebook and Twitter. But this was always a problem. There were always bad actors. We know the British government has invested massive amounts of money in troll farms and in the infiltration and manipulation of social media in Scotland. Yet, the problem was not always, as the paranoid argue, the involvement of the British state. There were always ‘bad thinkers,’ social media users who either never quite learned how to behave or to put serious thought into what they were doing. Discussions that really should have remained discussions became intense internecine wars in which the internal lines of communication within the movement were severed and in which trust and the ability to cooperate were corroded to the point of uselessness.
Reading over comments about me — not to me — on social media, I see something quite disturbing. ‘Politicalicious’ on Twitter, an independence supporter, recently posted a Gif to a thread discussing me of a priest from the film The Exorcist saying the rosary to which she added the tag ‘bad priest’ — the insinuation, as you might imaging, being that I am a child molester. ‘A Douglas,’ another independentista, suggested I was just ‘an opportunistic blogger looking for a crust’ ( I don’t make money for what I do). And ‘Mel,’ sometimes an independence supporter, simply says ‘Jeggit is a misogynist.’ All this for what? Hating women? No. This onslaught of bile came at me — from hundreds of accounts over a period of weeks — for refusing to endorse transphobia. Nothing to do with Scottish independence — for simply refusing to stay quiet while some pretty nasty people said some pretty vile and disgusting things about other people.
Aye, woe is me! But this isn’t just about me. This is happening to all sorts of people right across social media, and it’s about all sorts of topics — discussions that really should stay discussions. Yet, they are becoming infernos — fuelled by bad thinkers and driven by bad actors. Social media has become the perfect weapon against movements for change. Government bad actors and other interfering parties have perfected the process of fragmenting movements and poisoning the wells; turning movement solidarity into strife and bitterness over discussions which, had they happened offline, would have remained discussions among friends. Social media has become an instrument for transforming normal civil discourse into bloody feuds. And none of this is by accident either. Chamath Palihapitiya, a former senior executive at Facebook described the situation:
We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are. And I would encourage all of you, as the future leaders of the world, to really internalise how important this is. If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you. If you push back on it, we have a chance to control it and rein it in. And it is a point in time where people need to hard break from some of these tools and the things that you rely on. The short term dopamine driven feedback that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth, and it’s not an American problem, this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem.
Social media is the problem. I don’t blame ‘Politicalicious,’ ‘A Douglas,’ ‘Mel,’ or any of the other Twitter users who, without knowing anything about me, have made it their business to discredit me and manufacture an image of me as a child abusing woman hater — these are not intelligent people. There is no shortage of useful idiots on the internet. They believe, as bad thinkers, that they are achieving something. They’re not. They are merely adding to the conditions in which they too can be so easily dismissed — and always to the advantage of the bad actors, those who have pumped incalculable sums of money into a global project geared towards the protection of their power by the dismissal, defamation, and destruction of anyone who challenges them. In short, social media has become the mechanism by which we become the instruments of our own oppression.
It is time, then, that I take a hard break from this form of media. Facebook and Twitter are doing nothing to advance the cause of Scottish independence. In fact, these social media platforms are making things more difficult for us. They are breaking down solidarity, undermining trust, and ramping up paranoia and fear. The platforms themselves are doing this because they understand anger gets a better response than other emotions — and response means revenue. Government interference and the interference of other bad actors is a golden egg for the social media corporations. And this is bad for us. It is catastrophic. I will not, however, be leaving social media and deleting my accounts. This too would be counterproductive. Rather, I will use these platforms to promote the writing I am doing and the other content I am producing — and that’s it! Nothing else. We cannot have nuanced conversations on social media, in an environment where it is easier to sink to personal four-letter-word abuse than it is to use our words.
Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen
12 thoughts on “Social Media is the Problem”
Well done Jason. I can imagine it is not easy to break from these things but ditching social media is a great choice. You will know my views on social media from my posts and I really thi k you have it in a nutshell when you say “we cannot have nuanced conversations on social media” the format doesn’t allow for it and the resulting toxic culture that has grown around it won’t allow it. It is a shame that there is no platform where a good old fashioned and respectful debate can be held. No one seems to want to discuss any more and if we cannot hear another point of view how can we learn? Great choice. Keep the blog ditch social media.
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My wife and I just returned from two weeks on Barra and the Uists. No internet or phone connections to speak of and with such splendid geography and beautiful people we did not feel much loss. Since our return we are engaging differently now with social media.
I am sorry you have suffered such stupid abuse. Apart from the usual difference of opinion between us, I agree wholeheartedly with this analysis. It is also rather well written, packed with quotable chunks and catchy phrases. I shall be reading it again shortly.
I have no doubt that both Twitter and Facebook are indeed the mechanism by which we ensure our continued oppression, but I do not believe that nuanced discussion is impossible on the internet. This blog space at WordPress has a degree of civility to it that is elsewhere absent, just for example, and there are others. The problem it seems to me is that each of these might simply become an echo chamber of self congratulation, with no real connection with any other.
The differences between so called real life and the internet are huge but boil down to this: face to face we feel, smell and taste the other speaking in every aspect of their being, subliminally our conduct is governed by complex bio-social and emotional processes; on the internet we react to words, intellectually.
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It’s probably a good shout, Jason.
We have to re-learn that it’s OK to disagree without falling out.
I disagree with you on a couple of fundamental points but that’s OK because I’m fully on board with the notion of radical independence.
Social media it’s true has become more and more a tool of manipulation and I’m pretty much in a process of phased withdrawal too now I’m back in Scotland.
I’m mostly back at the phase of just showing pictures of the dug and what I’ve been up to in the garden or workshop.
Virtually everything we are exposed to now is disinformation, so I’m electing to just disconnect and live my own life in peace, away from the idiocy of the outside world.
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
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Upon second reading and further reflection I believe we need urgently to start talking quite strictly about the ethics of internet interaction. Or at least to begin to articulate codes of conduct for those who are willing to engage in serious and courteous conversation across all differences, without allowing any polarisation to become anything but a momentary difference of opinion, from which it is possible and in fact necessary to move forward. Meanwhile perhaps we must eschew those who wish to embroil themselves in unthinking mudslinging. Primarily by not engaging in unthinking mudslinging. Being the change we want to see. Not reacting when mud is thrown. Actively to create ethical discourses within internet interaction.
And people accuse me of airyfairy idealism?!!
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OMG. I can think of a myriad of ways that could be manipulated by those in authority to silence opinions, facts, and information they are uncomfortable with.
Heck even Jeggit has been repeatedly labeled problematic, including by large swathes of the YES movement (go back to the stushie over AOUB marches, comments about the IRA, defending others who were being targeted). Funnily, such “rules” always seem to have definitions that shift very quickly to close of debate and make evermore things ‘problematic”…and they always move in a way that benefits those in power..
You are calling for public life to be a comfy sofa, when public life is messy and for some ( more everyday) the discussions over politics are life and death. Just because it may not be for you is because you are fortunate to not be in that position. Scotland and NI is basically a long history of social demonstrations that at times have been raucous and hard fought. To say stop it is to roll over and give up.
If you want to improve public discourse, how about working on getting people better able to see through shoddy arguments and manipulations. That makes the charlatans obvious, and their power diminishes.
1 – what’s really being said.
2 – why is it being said
3 – why now
4 – is it factual (rhetorical)
5 – who benefits, who loses
Tone policing is a age old tactic of marginalising those who are most a threat and typically working class.
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I am not sure if the “you” referred to here is me or Jeggit.
I said that I wouldn’t comment again, Jeggit, but I just wanted to say that you are right about the social media platforms being toxic: they are cesspits of vitriol. However, human beings, in their rage and frustration, have always been able to hurl abuse and hate at each other. Have you ever tried reading some of the snatches of ordinary people’s literature that have been discovered from Ancient Egypt. Absolutely no difference to today’s social media. Many of us fall into the trap of letting go of our anger when we should rein it in, because someone has said or done something that is objectionable, utterly stupid or mendacious, and we let rip. I am as guilty of that as the next person and I readily acknowledge that it is a bad character trait in some circumstances. Rage and anger, however, are justified, I think, and are part of our human armoury against bad players.
I believe, and have always believed, that you look upon the trans issue as a man (not your fault, obviously) and as a compassionate person. I think that compassion has to be removed from this issue in order to scrutinize it fully and dispassionately, in order to see the implications and ramifications. Only then, can we afford to be compassionate. You talk of bad players on the social media being backed by very bad players who are using them. I agree. Have you read the Denton’s advice document to Stonewall? Have you followed up on the behind-the-scenes bad actors who pump money into the trans lobby? Have you never wondered how such a supposedly tiny group of people can wield so much power with corporations, politicians, public institutions?
Frankly, Jeggit, I’d rather you did publish, because much of your stuff is deeply thought-out and adds to our understanding, even if I don’t always agree with it. Duncan Spence is another deep thinker and compassionate man whose thoughts are always worth the effort of reading. I listened to, and read, reams of stuff on the trans issue – much of it from psychologists, sexologists and from transsexuals, on the one hand (most of who do not wish to enter female spaces and rights) and, on the other, from others sheltering under the trans umbrella, who may not intend harm, but who are so intent on their own needs and wants, usually sexual, that they don’t give much, if any, thought to the philosophical debates on rights and obligations, with the emphasis on obligations – to others. I am truly sorry that you have been the target of so much unwarranted abuse, and again, there is a fine line between justified criticism of someone and unjustified vilification. I don’t, on a personal level, agree with your religious beliefs either, but I would stand by you to defend your right to have them, and I would never, unthinkingly, blame the whole Catholic Church for its bad actors either. In some places, priests have died defending their people.
I wish you well in all your enterprises.
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You are not – NOT – banned from commenting. You are always welcome to comment. My gripe was that the comments were turning into another Twitter with long threats of discussion. Out of interest, though, what religious belief do you disagree with? I don’t remember mentioning any in particular.
No, Jeggit, I get it. Thank you.
That social media broke it only holds water if you ignore history. Society has always been manipulated and full of vitriol, only the zeitgeist previously was the domain of controlling interests and the mechanisms were almost hidden to the general population. They were never adverse to disinformation or creating vindictive crowds. In fact, the old players are one of the first to pile onto ‘social media critique whilst valorising some mythical past as it deliberately hides that they remain some of the most active players in it – hidden behind media drops, bots and pre-organised group campaigns. The only thing different now is that social media has allowed for pushback and that is both uncomfortable for established players and problematic as it makes the old tools of manipulation more visible.
Social media may not be the home of nuanced conversation…thats fine but it doesn’t have to be. That is like complaining pub on game day isn’t about discussing theoretical physics Every popular medium of their day has its pit falls and tv and radio were given similar stick. The pitfalls of TV for reasoned debate were highlighted by Chomsky (who really lays out the mechanics of the problem), and David Suzuki’s summation was if you swim in the sewer you just end up smelling of shite.
I know this is probably not the gist of your piece, but from a general point about social media vs the society we thought we knew…
What broke it was us, and our laziness, Thinking the social coalitions that we relied upon were natural and robust and we wouldn’t have to worry about groups leaving what we thought was a common ground regardless of which groups we sold down the river.
We are now at the point where we are seeing that come home to roost and instead of being able to respond, we have been trapped by our own inertial on how we understand media and society. Many who assumed a comfortable normality are now finding that organisations’ and those in authority’s interests don’t include ours let alone us. And we are almost shocked to find they have no qualm deploying any tactic, regardless of if it holds water or not. To many who thought there remained avenues for action (even though most had never used them) only to find they are no longer there and in the mean time those in power have learnt new tools totally attuned to todays media before most had woken up to the change.
The process underway is not yet finished and it is probably only the start. We still have yet to see the full implications of how many leaders and organisations are becoming increasing detached from the community. We are in the mist of a decoupling where they deploy a continual avalanche of dead cats and we remain stupefied like small children being distracted by jangled car keys. As long as their is a newer and bigger dead cat every day the public never has time to focus on any one scandal that would end their career and rest back some control to the public. The media we relied upon is all to willing to carry water for them and from some perspectives. if not orchestrate it, at times be willing players and we remain unquestioning.
In the end, I suspect we create our own demons.
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Excellent comment, Tol. I think the decoupling is happening at a really furious rate now and the worst of it is between children and their parents. We are seeing an all-out assault on ‘the family’, the most enduring unit and building-block of our species, imperfect as it has always been. I don’t think we are seeing a new wave of media so much as a new wave of capitalism which intends to cater for us as individuals rather than as families, as groups or peoples or nations. What appears to be, on the surface, freedom to be who you are is actually a new form of identity bondage, a new form of mensch and ubermensch (although I do not believe that Nietzsche actually meant it the way it has been taken by so many – that’s the problem with philosophy: bad actors will always interpret it against the general well being), the weak overcome by the strong.
We are actually witnessing this now – reality is being subverted and shape shifting is demanded by the new tyrants – but, as humans have for millennia, we will always come back stronger and fighting fit to overthrow the oppressor, the tyrant. We are, as a species, survivors. At least, we have always been in the past. I’m also a realist, and I have a powerful suspicion that this is going to get really bad, but not the way we’d expect, looking at it dispassionately and pragmatically.
I think that the change that is coming will be so profound that it will rock our world to its core, to the extent that human evolution and development will never be the same again, and will be very different from the past, and it will, and must, happen, because we will not survive as a species otherwise. I think we will go back to the beginning to recapture reality and equilibrium because we have to, so skewed and utterly lacking in any kind of balance has our world become.
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