The danger of the online echo chamber for the Welsh Indy Left
This isn’t an attack piece, but a small piece of constructive criticism, between friends and allies, about the way forward for the Welsh independence movement’s Left.
The online echo-chamber in which we too often find ourselves a part of is a product of self-deception, and serves to distract from our goals, and devour our energy.
What Wales needs is less of party-political squabbling on Twitter, academic debates that span days, and the ‘activism’ of reactive tweeting (things we’re all guilty of) – but on the ground action, getting into the community, and forging real change.
There’s a habit in the Welsh Indy Left to treat academic debate as activism.
For every argument about whether or not Wales is a colony, or whether we should celebrate Welsh Patagonia (though of course, these are worthy of discussion, and I disagree with both arguments just to clarify), hours are wasted online in a constant back and forth, achieving nothing but stroking our own intellectual egos.
It’s easily done, we’ve all been guilty of this. The problem lies in the fact this form of ‘activism’ is easy, and addictive.
Getting into a Twitter argument with an elected official or attacking some perceived wrong-doer makes you feel good, makes you feel righteous, not to mention the excitement of seeing people agree with you – whether in comments or likes. What it achieves though? Nothing, bar wasted time.
For every two people you possibly could convert with a tweet, thirteen more will have never even been on Twitter, let alone see your witty remark, or clever takedown. More times than not, the argument doesn’t even change anyone’s minds – just re-enforces their own beliefs, to a much greater degree than before.
There’s the saying, that “the longer you stare into the void, the longer it stares into you”. For the Welsh Indy Left, maybe it’s more apt to say: “the longer you scream into the void, the longer is screams back at you”.
Debate is important, conversation is important, and it’s necessary. However, it needs to be in conjunction with solid on-the-ground action. One cannot survive without the other.
The longer we focus on screaming into the cyber-ether – writing blog posts, or Twitter threads – as opposed to directly helping the people we claim to fight for, the longer we get consumed by its appeal, and devote our entire energy to it.
Two years ago, as an example, the topic of the echo-chamber was spread – quite condescendingly – amongst many progressives in the Welsh independence movement.
Brexit, they argued, was the result of Cambridge Analytica, the Russians, and a campaign of disinformation forged and spread amongst insular online communities. Brexit voters were duped, deceived, and were allegedly ‘completely devoid of reality’.
It was believed was that Brexit was unpopular in Wales, that people had changed their mind. The EU election symbolised this, with Plaid Cymru victories being used to justify that Wales was a ‘Pro-EU’ nation. But 2019 soon put an end to this fantasy.
With the recent Senedd election, there was doom-mongering about Abolish sweeping the board, grand-expectations of Plaid, and an expected withering of Welsh Labour – all completely at odds with what actually happened.
Our own online echo-chambers have often warped reality around us, and we need to break free. The constant re-enforcement of our own beliefs, the preaching to the converted, and the consumption of cherry-picked news meant that we’d see what we wanted to see and believed in our own fairy tales – ignoring the reality around us.
So what can be done?
For all the online debate we put ourselves through, all the speculation and armchair activism, our cause can lack grounding in physical activism.
When our entire work boils down to ‘Boris Johnson said this on Twitter, [insert witty putdown]’, we can pat ourselves on the back, but ultimately it’s meaningless to the vast majority of people in Wales, who have more pressing matters to deal with than a Facebook or Twitter debate.
What could sway someone more, a Facebook argument with your elected rep, or getting out into the community and creating change? Which one will inspire more people?
Understandably, Covid has meant most of us have been stuck in for months on end, unable to organize outside – or with great difficulty, leading to such a strong presence online. It’s definitely been a way to pass the time!
Now, as we exit lockdown, we have the chance to test the timber of our ideas and get out into the world. Clearups, food stalls, protests, whatever you can do – as long as you’re putting yourself out there and doing, rather than complaining, you are affecting real change.
Groups like ours, though we may falter, are trying to get out and make an impact. Debate, and conversations about serious topics are needed, but only when in synthesis with real in-person action. We hope we can inspire others to do the same.
As the old saying goes, “Action speaks louder than words”.
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