Amplification

We hear a lot about how Twitter is an “echo chamber”. This is usually pointed out with a slightly patronising tone, by those who are keen to make us aware that although they engage on social media (sometimes to extreme levels of length and repetition), they also know that it is Not Representative, because they speak to Other People as well.

I’m not quite sure why this point needs to be made. I have yet to follow a single account on Twitter without making the conscious decision to press the button. I choose who and what I want to follow. According to the echo chamber finger-wagging, I should presumably carefully select a representative sample of society, making sure that 20% would
be likely to vote UKIP, a handful would like to sell the local hospital to a firm from Des Moines, and at least one or two would agree with the notion that MK Dons is a legitimate football club.

In practice, I can get that by going to work, or going shopping, or going to the football, or doing anything where I don’t get a choice in the people who turn up at the same time. When I go home, I don’t, if at all possible, do things I don’t like, which include eating carrots, watching “talent”/”reality” shows (except ones involving food on the BBC), and listening to Conservatives.

Perhaps, then, the constant reminders are not so much “choose better”, but “be careful with what you read into the result”. This makes more sense. I don’t have to listen to those who, in my careful and considered opinion, talk bollocks; but I must be aware that the people I DO listen to might not be enough to, say, win a General Election. I know this. I learnt it most forcefully in my twenties, when George W Bush was re-elected for a second term DESPITE four years of incessant mocking on the News Quiz and the Now Show. But, for those less experienced, perhaps it’s a decent warning.

Which brings me on to the Labour leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn is clearly the best choice to lead the Labour Party. We don’t need to go into why or how, that’s not the point. The point is that I am, unequivocally, a Jeremy Corbyn supporter. Or, more accurately, a supporter of anyone who is prepared to voice the opposition to the current status quo in the way that Corbyn and his campaign have over the last few months.

Over recent weeks, this has become something to be viewed as dangerous. There has been a feeling among media commentators that they are receiving too much abuse for questioning the campaign or the candidate. And today we are told that “Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters risk undermining their own cause”.

The tl/dr is that a lot of people on the internet are unpleasant nutters. Really, evilly, viciously unpleasant nutters. And that some of these nutters have chosen to attach themselves to the campaign of someone seen as an “outsider” (even though he’s a longer-serving Westminster MP than any of the competition).

This should not be news. There have been enough “characters” brought to prominence by being nasty on the internet for us to know that such behaviour can bring its own rewards. I shan’t list them here, but if you don’t know who I mean, follow the Zelo Street blog for a few weeks – you’ll soon come across three or four.

So we know that shouty nutters shout nutty things. And we know, because we learnt earlier, that we really shouldn’t rely too much on things said on Twitter for a balanced view of the world. So why should that not work both ways? If I shouldn’t take my self-selected skewed sample of opinion as representative, why should someone getting lots of nasty @ replies take them as representative of those backing the campaign? They are just as self-selecting, albeit inadvertently and uncontrollably, because of the format of the medium. You can say a loud, nasty thing in 140 characters. It takes longer to add the necessary qualification and say “I’m not a nutter, and I enjoy your writing and the insight it provides, and I don’t think you’re part of some elitist cabal, but I don’t agree with your point on Richard Murphy’s economic plans”. If we try to condense it, we lose the nuance, and get dumped in the bin marked CORBYNITE. If we do it over five tweets, we dump ourselves in the bin marked “green ink”. So we don’t bother. The nutters don’t worry about these considerations, so their voice is amplified, and suddenly they become representative of the online campaign.

Appealing to them to think of the effect on the campaign is as useful as appealing to a 1980s hooligan to think of the effect on the team and league he happened to attach himself to. If he’s mainly there for the aggro, it’s not going to make a blind bit of difference. And in the meantime, those who just want to watch the match will continue to suffer by association.

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