Let’s accept that I have never been a card-carrying member of any political party. That does not mean that I do not have views that would fit well with the philosophy of a local political party. However, a range of circumstances working in the national or intenrational public service did not make it easy to be an identifiable official member of a political party.
When I lived in the UK, social media was non-existent. I voted, so could express my politcal views through the ballot box. When I lived in the USA and Guinea, my status did not allow me to have a vote, either locally or nationally, so the ballot box was not an open route. But, social media was coming into play. When I lived in Barbados and now in Jamaica, I could vote, at the very least as an eligible Commonwealth citizen. Social media was well to the fore.
I noticed the shrillness of partisan commentary in the UK, where Labour (left) and Conservative (right) views were often truly polarized; those were were not clearly aligned towards either end of that spectrum or were undecided or had a clear alliance with the views of another party had a good number of choices, either with the Liberals or one of the nationalist parties, such as Plaid Cymru-Party of Wales, or with a fringe party. You can get a good idea from the Wikipedia listing of poltiical parties in the UK.
In Guinea, where the philosophies of parties were less relevant for a long time under the dictatorial rule of President Conte, the voices were really those pro- on anti-president. Later, parties started to show their colours more and they were quite distinctly aligned to ethnic groups.
In the USA, the philosophical underpinnings of the Democrats and the Republicans were often clear, but the realities at the time of my arrival in the early 1990s seemed to be that they were both playing for a bigger share of ‘the middle’ and were not universally clear how far they would move to the left and right, respectively. That’s changed over the past two decades and the party are standing closer to their respective political poles.
Barbados and Jamaica are similar in that the two main parties dominate the thinking and actions of many people in ways that are clear, and their partisanship often defies reason, with many displays of blind faith for both the party line and against the line of the opposing party. What’s funny about that is someone like me, who has no affiliation can and did get labelled as a party ‘hack’ for taking views that were in line with those of one party or the other, even though the basis for the view was essentially what I took to be the sensibleness of the position, often driven by what I saw as the economic logic or lack of that in the positions. So, at any given time, I could have been labelled Dem or Labour in Barbados, or Labourite or Comrade in Jamaica.
I started delving into social media in Barbados, where I began my first blog, Living in Barbados. I tried to be objective but labels came flying at me. Funnily, enough people saw that I was trying to be impartial to warrant their asking for my views and commentary on radio and TV. But, that’s when I first experienced the vitriol of partisans.
The great thing about a blog is that one can deal with comments through the process of moderating them very simply by either ignoring them or never letting them see the light of day. It was often easy to spot partisans because reason was not at the base of their positions and ranting was. I was also delving into social media through Facebook (which seemed a great platform for casual contact with friends and family, through sharing of pictures) and Twitter (initially as a foreign exchange trader, where I was attracted to the community for the easy ability to find people with like interests with whom to have ‘conversations’ and share information). My initial experiences with both did not lead me to feel that these were fundamentally difficult places to interact. However, that has changed.
While I see that a lot of users of either platform are there to truly engage and discuss, there is a body of users who are there with a political agenda that is really about pushing positively in a sense the party positions, but distinctly pushing negative energy by trying offend and attack what they see as views not in line with those of their party (which may not necessarily be those of the opposing party, either). It’s one of many zero-sum games that are common in Jamaica and Barbados, and I have to think it relates to the size of the audience–relatively small–so those critical voices echo more loudly.
Sadly, technology has not made it easy to deal with this newer phenomenon. Much as automated trading made it hard for an small individual trader to do well in the FX market because computer-driven orders could be made faster and greater than humanly possible, so too with those who use the abilities of computers to stimulate and continue to generate negative commentary.
I still find it possible to deal with those who are ‘trolling’ on my terms, either by ignoring them–one’s never obliged to read them–or dealing with them quickly (if only so the historical record shows that a view was rejected). But, the pervasive anonymity of social media makes it hard to truly deal with a ‘body’ of criticism that may seem large but could in fact be small.
But, it’s important to try to understand what is really at play: it’s disrupting clear conversations, which seen a better than letting opposing ideas get currency. It’s fighting against free speech in forums that are built on the ability for people to engage in free speech. To the extent that this happens in the area of discussing ideas of policies and thus politics, it’s a form of political bullying. Because one cannot unmask each and every user, the distructiveness and anti-democratic nature of the practices are even more damaging and dangerous, because the real villians are often not known and can be ‘recreated’ easily.
Few like fighting against adversaries that they cannot really identify, and therein lies the basis of a winning strategy. Many get turned off to the extent that they withdraw totally or revert to ‘private’ status, for self-protection. Others try to strive to ‘not let the buggers win’. There’s no easy choice, but I’m a stubborn bugger 🙂