FT columnist Robert Shrimsley points out that the rise of social media, rather than creating a virtual commune where contesting ideas can be debated, has undermined the quality of political activism because “For a certain kind of activist, politics has been reduced to pure performance”.
Mr Shrimsley notes that at a recent public event in England where he was the moderator, a couple of protesters jumped up with their banners. “These were entirely hopeless protesters. There were far too many words on their banner and even now I can’t remember the name of their organisation. Worse still, they folded at the first sign of authority. I mean, seriously, I’ve seen more spirited resistance from the spawn when we ask them to help with the chores.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Perhaps there was something in the cookery or arts tent they didn’t want to miss, and so they offered a quick protest and then dashed over to the talk on Portuguese wines. Two days later their behaviour was partially explained when I received a press release detailing their heroic assault on Fortress Hampstead with a photo and video of their triumph. Having got the shot, there was no need to stay.”
Mr Shrimsley says that we are so hooked on to social media that we have forgotten how to protest in the real world. Ironically, this suits the targets of social protest perfectly:
“Gesture politics has always been with us but what is striking about so many social media-driven demonstrations is the lack of any political strategy underpinning them. It is as if the performance is the only objective. There is no plan to persuade and, in some cases…there seems to be a conscious effort to alienate ordinary people and lose support…Like the hashtag activism of social media, so much political campaigning seems to be about the campaigner not the cause. It is about a photo for your Insta feed. It’s the kind of politics that changes nothing but makes you feel good about yourself. It is campaigning for those who want to think of themselves as activists but can’t really be bothered to carry it through.”
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