Why the Welsh independence movement needs to log off Twitter

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Ifan Morgan Jones

Yesterday, after another round of falling out on Twitter, the always sensible and level-headed YesCymru chairman Siôn Jobbins was moved to say: “It may be a good idea for us to take a break from social media.”

I don’t quite agree that the national movement should take a break from all social media, as (in the absence of a strong Welsh mainstream media) it remains the most effective way of reaching a new and receptive audience.

However, I’d certainly agree with Siôn that the national movement needs to take a break from Twitter – or, at least, from engaging in any heated arguments about the national movement on Twitter.

Twitter no doubt has its uses, particularly as a medium to follow the latest news on an issue. If you tap into the right networks, particular inside information will bubble to the surface very quickly.

It has also been the platform of choice for the Welsh national movement. It has played a big and helpful part in allowing people who believed in Welsh independence to discover each other and work together.

It’s also true that because there are a large number of journalists, politicians, lobbyists, civil servants and others on Twitter, it can be a very effective tool for reaching those in the Welsh political bubble and changing their minds on independence.

However, the first problem with Twitter is that it is exactly that – a political bubble.

On Twitter, people tend to follow each other because they agree with each other’s political points of view, or at least find them interesting.

And the dopamine hit of likes and retweets means that we all tend to default to saying what we think our cloud of followers want to hear, and are afraid to voice divergent opinions in case we provoke the dreaded ‘pile on’!

Facebook, in comparison, has its echo chambers but is far less of a bubble than Twitter.

On Facebook, people follow their friends. It means that someone sharing content on Facebook is much more likely to reach a new audience than on Twitter.

I’ve seen this to be the case on Nation.Cymru’s Facebook page – which drives three times more traffic than Twitter but also reaches different people all the time.

Every time an article is posted, someone will like it who has never liked a Nation.Cymru post before.

There seem to be far fewer YesCymru Facebook groups, however, and they seem to be far quieter, than the over 90 YesCymru accounts on Twitter.

These accounts are problematic in themselves because they tend to be run by one (often anonymous) individual, unvetted under the name of a ‘branch’.

They can often become bully pulpits for that individual who will claim the authority of that ‘branch’, who may just be that individual, to spout authoritatively on the issues of the day.

YesCymru is supposed to be a cross-party movement but a quick look at the output of these accounts will show that they retweet a large amount of a) content nothing to do with independence b) party political content, c) content unrepresentative of the views of most members.

I’ve even seen YesCymru Twitter accounts get into arguments with each other, which isn’t a good look for any movement.

Not perfect, but much better are Facebook groups, where the conversation is tempered by a comparative lack of anonymity and the fact that most of the branch members meet regularly and get on well with each other.

Dehumanising

This is only the start of the problems with Twitter, however. The real problem is that it’s completely useless as a means of changing anyone’s mind on anything.

This is unfortunately inherent to the medium. Because of the brevity of the messages, Twitter is a completely useless forum for political discussions. Arguments that couldn’t be resolved in 10,000 academic papers play out in two-sentence messages.

The brevity of the messages means two things:

  1. There’s no room to back up an argument up with any kind of evidence or discuss the wider context.
  2. There’s no room to include polite social behaviour.

Point i) means that Twitter discussions inevitably descend into arguments not about what was said but what was not said. A user will overreact to some meaning or context in a message that isn’t there, or will simply misread the message completely, and you’ll spend the next hour or so trying to clear up one misunderstanding but end up creating new ones.

But point ii) is the worst because it means that Twitter dehumanises us. It’s easy to forget that behind the words on the screen and little profile picture is a real human being on whom our words have a real effect.

The best way to come to change someone’s mind is what has been called the ‘truth sandwich’. First, you agree with some point that your political opponent has made. This makes them lower their defences and makes them more open to what you have to say. Then you deliver your own POV that differs from their own, to which they will be more receptive, and then close by suggesting a possible compromise.

Inch by inch, this trail of truth sandwiches shifts people’s views closer to your own (and if used by others, will open your own eyes more effectively to different viewpoints too).

There’s no room on Twitter for a truth sandwich. Steps one and three is missing. You state your own argument, and then press ‘send Tweet’.

And the person receiving the message, rather than thinking ‘do I agree with this message’ interprets it as an attack on one’s own views and thinks ‘how do I point out the flaws in this argument’?

People just don’t listen to each other on Twitter – they spar. This is sometimes sport but mostly exhausting.

As a result of the inherent brusqueness of the medium, a number of people I know are loving, caring and kind, and whom I can have an amicable discussion within the real world come across as obstinate and rude on Twitter. Myself included.

I have written plenty on Twitter in the heat of an argument, only to look back at it days or weeks later and realise it makes me seem like a complete arse.

I’ve never seen anyone ‘win’ an argument on Twitter. Discussions simply come to an end because one person loses the will to continue, and probably their faith in humanity along the way. This usually happens because the other side of the argument has called in reinforcements, who will pile in until the victim is exhausted.

No minds are changed, and in fact, the resolve of both sides that they are ‘right’ is probably strengthened by hate towards the other point of view. Now, it’s personal.

Beyond ruining the mental health of everyone involved, and further polarising our political discourse, these Twitter arguments serve no purpose at all.

In a society where we are increasingly valuing mental as much as physical health, we need to realise that through this kind of interaction we’re doing real damage to each other.

Herd

Twitter’s other problem is that a handful of politically extreme but noisy people create a very distorted impression of what mainstream views are within the movement.

If the latest polls are to be believed, some 800,000 people now support Welsh independence. What one sees on Twitter however is the same 10-20 people falling out ad nauseam.

Inevitably, the most extreme views within the movement get the most attention and that gives the impression that these extreme views dominate.

This is what is called ‘nutpicking’ – the tendency to presume that an extreme view voiced by one or a handful of people in the movement is representative of the whole.

If I listened to some on the left, the movement is full of fascists. Those on the right suggest it has been taken over by the KGB’s thought police.

Twitter creates the impression that there is a gaping ravine at the heart of the movement on some issues when in fact there’s broad consensus other than one or two very loud people whose views are inevitably brought to the fore by endless angry replies and quote tweets.

However, if you suggest that this is the case you’re accused of ignoring or turning a blind eye to an issue. But it isn’t about ignoring or tolerating problematic points of view.

It is rather, on my part at least, a conscious realisation that screaming at each other at social media won’t solve anything, and is much more likely to harden opinions and make things worse.

When problematic views do exist in the mainstream, most people are simply ignorant of the issues and could be brought around over a cup of coffee.

Resolution

No one is at fault for the above problems. They are are all problems inherent to the medium of Twitter. It is a flawed way of discussing political issues.

While sometimes entertaining, and handy as a source of breaking news, it is ultimately a medium that monotises anger and misunderstanding.

At the end of last year, I suggested a New Year’s Resolution for the Welsh national movement – to spend less time arguing online and more time getting to know each other in the real world.

We have certainly done that. As the independence marches in Cardiff, Caernarfon and Merthyr Tydfil have shown, we are out our best when we come together and meet up face to face.

This doesn’t mean ignoring political issues which divide us but discussing them in a social and amicable manner.

The juxtaposition between the joy of these social interactions and the hate on Twitter – often when interacting with the same people! – couldn’t be starker.

There is much more that unites us than divides us. We all want what is best for each other.

For our own good and the good of the movement, we need to come together offline and start to understand our different points of view and work towards a greater understanding.

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RhosdduPhilip Hughesjr humphrysSibrydionmawrJoanne Davies Recent comment authors
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Penderyn
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Penderyn

Twitter or Trydar in Welsh ? is a fantastic place if you enjoy echo chambers and political niche bubbles
– I rarely get anxious or triggered!

If we are going to be in a bubble, use it to share new data, information, factual tidbits to improve our confidence in what we believe can happen

jr humphreys
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jr humphreys

Agree.

Joanne Davies
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Joanne Davies

I agree. The Welsh indy movement is being hijacked by the wanny movement anyway.

Can’t we just cancel Nia Naseem, Yasmin Begun, and Aled and Teifi? Hardly positive poster people for the movement.

Leigh Richards
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Leigh Richards

You say you agree with ifan’s valuable points – but then induldge in the very online abuse of others he warns the national movement about. PS the likes of Nia Naseem, Yasmin Begun and Aled and Teifi enhance the Welsh national movement. Wales is a diverse nation – the Welsh Indy movement needs to reflect this if it’s to succeed.

Joanne Davies
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Joanne Davies

Wales isn’t actually that diverse apart from a couple of pockets in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea.

Those three I mentioned scream oppression and racism and diversity when the country they live in isn’t that diverse. It’s just a reality they don’t want to acknowledge or accept and seek to sew division where very little exists.

I think you’ll find the silent majority find the three of them and their views repulsive and vacuous. They just seem like three young, foolish and lonely people who are giving the independence movement a bad name.

Matt Youde
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Matt Youde

Translation: Wales is mostly white and straight so we don’t want BAME or LGBTQ+ people in the movement – and their views that they are unwanted are repulsive, even though I just said we don’t, in fact, want them.

Joanne Davies
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Joanne Davies

I’m gay. I’m also a Welsh speaker and have a spinal injury which means I’m classed as disabled. There are 1001 different ways of defining minorities. I am not discrediting genuine, hateful behaviour towards minorities but I find the extreme sentiments espoused by the three amigos mentioned above utterly repugnant.

If people want genuine diversity then they need to embrace the most important diversity of all – diversity of opinion.

As Ifan says, we need to come together, not concentrate on microaggressions and extreme minoritarian issues that seek to divide us.

Siôn
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Siôn

Joanne Davies is a troll Matt. It’s probably Royston Jones or a Propel member out to wind sensible people up. We’re better off ignoring.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

As far as I can tell, Royston Jones always uses his own name when adding a comment to a post on this blog, so it certainly isn’t him. If you’re convinced it’s a troll, think of all the other people who have diagreed with your comments in the past and pick one of them. Alternatively, she could be a genuine subscriber called Joanne Davies. Unless you have evidence to the contrary, of course, in which case I apologise.

Joanne Davies
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Joanne Davies

If anyone with a different opinion is branded as a troll it just shows how far the indyWales movement has to go.

We’re not all rampant socialists.
Not all of us believe in climate change.
Not all of us believe that men can be women.
Not all of us think that immigration is a wonderful thing.
Not all of us want to be in the EU.

But you can believe in the above and still be gay and believe in an independent Wales.

Philip Hughes
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Philip Hughes

Okay , yes some people who support Welsh independence can be somewhat forceful in their eagerness. Wales should be an open, inclusive society and if anyone supports racism of any form they should be censured. But the opposition are not exactly a bunch of whiter than white angels. They have the advantage of they only want to attack and belittle Wales and everything Welsh, with a nasty anti-Welsh streak, mostly claiming they are really Welsh. The Welsh independence movement is gaining momentum, now is not the time to back off on getting the message across.

Joanne Davies
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Joanne Davies

No it isn’t really gaining any momentum outside of Twitter and the same 5000 socialist faces tramping around Caernarfon and Merthyr.

I’d love to see an independent Wales, but the demographic reality of our country makes it impossible.

Philip Hughes
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Philip Hughes

No, first as the marches and polls prove it’s gaining momentum across the whole of Wales and support for independence is growing. Second, your twitter account is new , with a handful of followers and your posts are anti-Welsh. I guess you are just another sock-puppet of Jacs.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

I thought Jac was pro-indy. Or are you referring to some other man called Jac, who actually IS anti-Welsh? In which case, wouldn’t such a person be known as ‘Jack’?

Philip Hughes
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Philip Hughes

I was referring Jacques Protic, a person who goes thru different profiles like an elephant goes thru peanuts

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

I stand corrected, Philip. I assumed you meant Jac o’ the North, but I’d forgotten about ‘Old Prozac’. I agree he’s a very likely candidate, assuming Joanne is indeed an alias.

David JOnes
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David JOnes

It requires a leader to bring everyone together someone with drive and charisma

Dewi Evans
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Dewi Evans

I’ve frequently felt that compulsive tweeting is the literary equivalent of sexual activity that does not involve another human being. It may provide instant gratification to the user. It lacks the potential to be a source of growth and creativity.

Wexit
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Wexit

Very timely and well argued article from Ifan here. Twitter has degenerated into a veritable nest of vipers, which almost inevitably consumes its own users in one way or the other. It is sheer poison. Yes, we’ve always got to bear in mind that the actual numbers who use the medium is tiny in relation to the wider general public. But, such divisiveness and nastiness could easily demoralise and derail the independence movement from within so to speak. Perhaps the Indy Movement needs to think about creating its own discussion site/portal where such debates can take place in a more… Read more »

Philip Hughes
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Philip Hughes

“Perhaps the Indy Movement needs to think about creating its own discussion site/portal where such debates can take place in a more measured and considered manner”

That would simply be preaching to the choir. We need to convince those who are undecided about Welsh independence to come over to our side and we need to use every means possible to pursue that. If YesCymru retreat from Twitter they are surrendering it to Unionist nationalists. At the moment unionists are running scared, we must keep pushing them.

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

The truth is that the indy movement need to be pursued through all mediums, but especially out there on the streets, which is where all significant change like the independence of a nation takes place. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you refer to how vital it is to keep the unionists on the run. That now just needs replicating everywhere else! Too much is online and so it’s very easy to ignore it, or not even be aware that it’s there at all. I’ve often thought that perhaps more old fashioned methods might be far… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

Nice idea, but most forums seem to have had their day with the exception of technical help forums, where the really do come into their own. Forums also have their issues, and one of the early problems were the various ‘flame wars’ that erupted, every bit as nasty as those on Twitter now. It’s a problem associated with the technology, and many studies have shown that even the mildest and most polite of us can sometimes find ourselves committing to the ether sentiments that we might not be so willing to express with some reflection, or when face to face… Read more »

David JOnes
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David JOnes

Twitter is a great medium to read others ideas of independence especially when they corslate with your own it reinforces your belief.. you are not alone

Siôn
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Siôn

1) Social media is not the platform of choice for the entire national movement, Ifan. Plaid Cymru councillors are often out on the doorstep or in events in their communities 52 weeks a year, having organic conversations with people, face to face. It is Yes Cymru/the current vocal rabble that seems to live on social media. 2) Does Yes Cymru do deep canvassing? Does it have a summer school? It seems to me, as a non-member (I believe it to be relatively hardline, being pro-independence myself but also a pragmatist) that they do relatively little organic work. Having a decent… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Plaid Cymru on the doorstep ? Not here in Penybont, we never see them. You must inhabit a parallel universe.

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

Same here in this part of Cardiff – only see a leaflet every time there is an election. It’s actually quite surprising as the street I live on has several Plaid signs out election time. Plaid need to learn what the LibDems did here, and realise that to win in an area that is Labour by default involves a lot of hard work over many years championing local concerns and issues. The LibDems used to wipe the board here at all levels, but then they got into bed with the Tories, and now Labour wipes the board again, at all… Read more »

Simon Jones
Guest
Simon Jones

Other than leafleting, street stalls, banners on bridges, organising events and rallies, cofiwch dryweryn murals and lots and lots of talking to people, no, no ‘organic work’ at all

jr humphrys
Guest
jr humphrys

For me at least, Yes Cymru have given a big boost to Indy. More happiness is a winner. AUOB!