This week is one of those weeks where I can’t help but think that one of the greatest threats to the Independence movement are the members themselves.
A bit of a sweeping statement, I know. But let me take you back to a recent article that spotlighted the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, where its leader claimed that it was ‘difficult to see the benefit of devolution.’
Looking at the piece objectively, it was a party-political manifesto, albeit a rather lacking-in-substance one. It taught us nothing new about the party. It wasn’t surprising. It wasn’t news. Realistically, it shouldn’t have gone further than the very confined realm of the incel-right-wing Twitter fringe. But it did. It went much further.
Not because it inspired Twitter users. Not because it was a galvanising cry to war. But because it infuriated people.
Like it or not, we live in a clickocracy, a term given to the impact of the internet on political campaigns, on spreading news, and on generating enthusiasm. How short a memory do we really have? It’s the sort of clickbait nonsense that one of our modern day’s most dangerous demagogues got in to power. And he’s still, at least for another two days, the President of the United States.
The article was shared on BBC Wales News’ Twitter account, inciting a swathe of responses. Not by enthusiastic anti-devolutionist, but by fervent supporters of Welsh independence. We played into the news outlets algorithms.
News outlets want a response. You can’t blame them for that. That’s why they exist. That’s how they exist. If we freely give them our attention, the news outlets are going to keep on creating similar content. That’s how it works.
It rather reminds me of racist protestors paying for Nike shoes with the sole intention of burning them, to show their opposition to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign.
One commentator rather unironically called the BBC Wales article ‘Shi*e sensationalism’. Yes. Sensationalism. Defined as the presentation of stories in a way that is intended to provoke public interest. I’m afraid to break it to you, but if sensationalism was their intention, they were hugely successful.
The same trap exists with social media algorithms. That’s why we live in online echo chambers of reinforced points of view. Social media algorithms display posts depending on how likely that user is to interact with that post.
It’s hard for some of us to comprehend how some of Trump’s faithful flock members can be so unquestioning in their belief and their loyalty to the President. But to put it simply, it’s all they ever see. Their social media feeds are flooded with the same lies and the same right-wing content perpetuating what the President says.
Because they keep reacting and interacting with these messages, they keep getting drip-fed the same material over and over again. Pair that with what they hear on Fox News, and one can start to understand how these individuals are so susceptible to such messaging.
Another problem was the amount of Independence supporters that quote Tweeted the article expressing their outrage. As Claire McNear rather eloquently put it, “start considering the implications of beaming trolls into everyone else’s feeds.” We are choosing to amplify the most unpleasant content.
Yes, scrutiny is important. But as I said, Twitter is an echo chamber. It’s not a place to change minds. You might win a few likes or Retweets from like-minded Independence supporters. A few taps on the back. But will you have made a real difference?
I keep wondering where that BBC article would have reached had it not been for Independence supporters thrusting it into the public sphere (I can imagine that Abolish’ Social Media Officer was overjoyed). It probably wouldn’t have gone very far. It would have been circulating in the echo chamber of Abolitionists for a few days, and then it would have been forgotten.
But because of the uproar of Yes Cymru supporters, the article is still doing the rounds, and it was a catalyst to hundreds of other posts forcing upon us the party’s brand leading up to the 2021 Senedd elections. Welsh Independence Supporters platformed a party that stands against everything we believed in. We fell for their trick.
I admire Plaid Cymru’s approach to the ‘Abolish threat.’ Adam, along with the majority of other mainstream Plaid politicians have refused to fuel the flames of baseless sensationalism.
At a time where susceptibility to untruth is as at a very high watermark, we should strive to constrain those untruths in as smaller a vicinity as possible. We should carry out our civic duty not to spread misinformation.
I implore my fellow YesCymru supporters, let us not fall into that trap again.