• Dirty Politics? Yes!

    The social media have assumed a hugely important significance in modern society.  For young people, in particular, they offer by far the most important means of communication and source of information.   Whether it be bullying at school or concerns about privacy or interference in elections, their influence is felt everywhere – and not always for the good.

    Political parties, in particular, realised some time ago that social media offered a cheap and effective means of influencing opinion; it is even argued that information gleaned from Facebook and then organised and utilised by Cambridge Analytica helped to determine the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election that elected Donald Trump.

    This kind of intervention in the democratic process may cause concern but – apart from the unauthorised misuse of what was assumed to be private information – the pitching to voters on the basis of what is known about their views and preferences is not necessarily any different in principle from the usual attempt, using more conventional means, to secure their support and to persuade them to vote one way rather than another.

    It is less easy, however, to be relaxed about another recent instance of the political impact that the social media can have.  They can all too easily become the vehicle of a campaign that uses innuendo and scuttlebutt to discredit a politician or his or her associates.

    The damage that can be done by such a campaign is magnified by the sheer volume of misinformation that can be generated over a brief period – and the absence of any substance in that misinformation can be camouflaged by constant repetition.

    The recent campaign of which the Prime Minister’s partner was a victim was just such an instance.  As she and he have discovered, there is virtually no defence against such an unprincipled attack.  While there can be no doubt that the campaign is politically motivated, and is an example of “dirty politics”,  the absence of any identifiable central direction makes it difficult if not impossible to stop it or disprove it at source.  It is truly a hydra-headed monster.

    A social media campaign of this type, in other words, is an ideal instrument for those who wish to inflict maximum damage with the least risk of being uncovered.  A social media campaign, after all, builds its own momentum, as those who had no part in launching it nevertheless see the chance to add to it and to increase the damage it does.  The planners and originators can simply disappear back into the woodwork.

    That problem is magnified by the fact that modern political parties, almost without exception, engage teams of sympathisers to patrol the social media, ready to respond as apparently uncommitted private citizens to postings they do not like, or to add support to those they do.  There would be nothing easier, in other words, than for a couple of enthusiasts to launch a campaign on behalf of a political organisation and then allow their fellow-enthusiasts to jump on the bandwagon and push it along, all without any apparent central direction or encouragement.

    The calumny thereby circulated is not, of course, the end of the damage that can be achieved.  The distress suffered and time wasted by the victims are all part of the price that is paid – and when they complain, quite legitimately, about “dirty politics” they are advised to harden up, or criticised for giving the story more legs, or are accused of bad-mouthing their opponents by suggesting that they are the obvious beneficiaries.   And there will be much sage shaking of the head and muttering about “no smoke without fire”.

    But, if the campaign is “dirty” (as it certainly is) and if it has an obviously political purpose (as it has), why can it not be characterised as “dirty politics”?  The phenomenon is not exactly unknown in our politics; there are, indeed, some political practitioners who glory in and boast of their prowess in such undertakings.  The victims – and the wider public – are surely entitled to draw their own conclusions.

    Bryan Gould

    3 May 2018

     

     

1 Comment

  1. Winston Moreton says: May 3, 2018 at 7:16 amReply

    The Perps cannot completely hide as is becoming apparent in USA. In NZ it should be relatively easy to track down the source and spike them. Would make a good news story