Labour’s social-media self-delusion

This time last year, many Remain campaigners felt confident about their chances in the EU referendum. After all, the majority of their mates (and their mates’ mates) were rooting for Remain on social media. In their opinion, only die-hard Britain First activists and craggy pensioners would back something as xenophobic as Brexit. How shocked they were when the result was announced on 24 June.

‘How could Twitter and Facebook deceive us so cruelly?’, they asked. The trustafarian media set couldn’t comprehend the fact that most people don’t spend all day tweeting or updating their Facebook statuses. Working-class Leave voters were not commenting online in the run up to the vote – they were working. The Brexit vote reminded us that Twitter is a home for time-rich media luvvies, a flattering echo chamber for cosseted liberal types.

But it seems that some journalists haven’t learnt their lesson, and continue to make political judgements based on social media. ‘Almost all of the top-25 most-shared web articles about the UK election are in support of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn’, cheered the Guardian last week. Apparently, blogs written ‘away from the Westminster bubble’ have ‘emerged as one of the most potent forces in campaign news-sharing’. Sure, new media platforms can allow alternative voices to develop and gain an audience. But they aren’t any better at representing public sentiment, or giving an indication of how people intend to vote, than the mainstream media.

In fact, many opinions expressed online aren’t politically informative at all. Social-media posts tend to be lazy affirmations of a ‘we’re tolerant and broad-minded’ identity. In between posting about the latest hip DJ, right-on social-media users feel compelled to retweet inane memes about Trump or climate change – just to prove how virtuous they are. Twitter, especially, should never be taken as an indicator of the public view. No matter what Labour supporters and sympathetic journalists say, a list of popular online articles is not a sign that Corbyn will be our next prime minister.

Nevertheless, Corbyn’s support among bloggers and tweeters does tell us something about the contemporary Labour Party. Labour is no longer the political expression of organised labour, but rather a conformist clique of the respectable, Twitter-dwelling middle classes. How Labour will fare on Thursday remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure: the next PM won’t win by social media alone.

Neil Davenport is a writer based in London.

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