On Brocialism

One of the most unsightly sights on Twitter is also one of the most frequent. What I speak of, of course, is mobs of keyboard warriors descending on individuals for committing some imagined transgression. Whether it be Cybernats attacking ‘traitorous unionists’, UKIP voters abusing ‘liebour pedos’ or Corbynistas berating ‘neoliberal, blairite warmongers blood on your hands!’, the Twitter keyboard warrior rarely fails to conform to a very specific set of characteristics. Namely, adopting a pseudonym, not having their face in their profile picture and overuse of the crying laughing face emoji. They will also either have dreadful spelling and grammar or use lots of complex lexis – which would make them appear intelligent if it weren’t so apparent that they had no idea of its meaning. However, recently it has become more and more apparent that there is another key characteristic of such people.

When I first saw the term ‘brocialism’ about two years ago, I was skeptical. Plenty of buzzwords get bandied around on Twitter, and as a general rule you should ignore 80% of them. Similarly, I am always wary of any catch-all generalisations, due to their tendency to homogenize people and obscure nuance. However, when you look at where the abuse on Twitter comes from and the way in which it manifests, it is quite obvious that there is a pattern. Almost without fail, the abuse comes from men who then retweet any responses they get to call down ‘the boys’ to attack the offender. Furthermore, this abuse is disproportionately directed at women – especially young women. Finally, the dynamic between these ‘brocialists’ is resplendent with the awkward, feverish homoeroticism that is always present in groups of straight men who are insecure in their masculinity.

The reality of this is self-evident, but why should this pattern manifest? In my view, it is mostly down to two factors: a) the cultish mentality of these groups and b) the ultimate weakness of their positions. Earlier, I mentioned Cybernats  and Corbynistas. They are both cultists. They have a fanatical devotion to an abstract concept – nationalism or ‘real’ socialism – and their dear leaders. They are also on the fringes of political thought, and as such any perceived slight towards them is magnified a thousand fold. It is in this tribalism that we find the reason for the makeup of these Twitter abusers being largely male. They view their spokespersons as something of ‘pack leaders’, and as such rally to defend them whenever they are threatened. These leaders tend to be male, such is the makeup of our society, and even when they are not – in the case of Nicola Sturgeon – the most vocal supporters online – such as WingsOverScotland – always are.

Tribalism isn’t only observed in men by any means, but it does manifest in a specific way with males. One only has to observe football fans to see how quickly affronts to the chosen tribe of men can incite violence. On the internet, as there are no bottles or traffic cones to be thrown, this takes the form of abuse. The reason this abuse is disproportionately directed towards young women is that these men want to prove their worth to their fellow ‘soldiers’ by winning battles, and sexist assumptions tell them that young women are stupid, out-of-their depth and weak, therefore making them easy scalps. If you want evidence of this, just observe how quickly brocialists resort to using patronising terms like ‘love’ and ‘dear’. I guarantee you it will be within 8 tweets.

As I mentioned, the other reason for this abuse is the inherent weakness of the above parties’ positions. It is a truism that when people realise their argument is bankrupt, they resort to violence. The fascists knew their ideas of racial purity had no basis in science, the Church knew they had no answer to the first rationalists, so rather than argue with their opponents, they killed them. In the modern world, when you have no faith in your argument, you no-platform your opponent, deselect them, or abuse them online. The arguments of the SNP are based on a nationalistic pipe dream, and the idea that Corbyn would ever get elected or has any semblance of a coherent policy platform which would benefit the nation is so laughable I won’t even address it. But the faithful also know this, and rather than face the horrible knowledge that they are wrong, they group together, howl, beat their chests and throw excrement. This is the face of modern brocialism, and Christ, is it ugly to behold.

Social media, postmodernity, Foucault and Marxism

This is going to be a bit of a long one, as it’s an essay I wrote for university which I just got back. Apologies for the more academic and analytical tone. I should add I would have liked to expand on some of the more inflammatory points, and these are too generalising and need a bit more nuance. However, this is pretty difficult to do with a 1,500 word limit and I can’t be bothered to rewrite this essay again.

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Since the launching of Facebook in 2004, social media has played an increasingly important role in society and many of our lives. More than ever before, we wilfully put ourselves under the scrutiny of our contemporaries and even strangers as a means of forming and promoting ourselves. Some have heralded this as a great step forward in the “democratisation” of news and narratives and of allowing individuals to flourish. However, whilst I acknowledge there are indeed positives in social media, I intend to argue that it has in fact created a more atomised, self-absorbed and panoptic society which, far from encouraging other viewpoints, often leads to a highly-rigid, intolerant social world dominated by status groups and societal norms.

To start with, arguably one of the greatest phenomena of social media, and in my view its greatest achievement, is its power to “democratise” news. As David Harvey argues in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, western media is dominated by (predominately white and male) wealthy elites who use their power to push their own agendas; i.e. ‘All 247 of the supposedly independent editors of [Murdoch’s] newspapers worldwide supported the US invasion of Iraq.’ To say the majority of western media have pushed a view of the world which is both culturally and militarily nationalist while excluding other viewpoints and obfuscating the truth is an understatement. The contrasting effect social media can have was illustrated perfectly this year with two major events, both domestic and international: the Ferguson riots and the Gaza conflict.

In both instances, Twitter users used hashtags to report events on the ground that were not shown by national news broadcasters. The rioting in Ferguson and heavy police response catapulted the discussion about civil rights back to the forefront of US home affairs while the shocking images and tweets showing the fear and despair of Gaza residents showed the world a new side to the conflict often not-covered by Western media.

This “democratisation” idea has been taken further by some. Turner states that media has experienced a ‘Demotic turn [due] to the increasing visibility of the “ordinary person” as they have turned themselves into media content through celebrity culture, reality TV shows etc.’ Taking this further, he argues ‘the media has perhaps [shifted] from a ‘broadcaster of cultural identities’ to ‘a translator or even author of identities’. We can read this as illustrating the postmodern idea of our world now being shaped by a ‘multiplicity of narratives’, which was particularly built on by Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition.

Social media forms yet another facet of postmodernism being, ‘an incredulity towards metanarratives’. It is often claimed that social media has breathed new life into social movements such as feminism. The highly successful ‘Everyday Sexism’ campaign and hashtags like #yesallwomen are held up as evidence of this. However, while in some ways liberating it, the fact anyone can now voice their own opinions and declare them to be representative of feminism is beginning to do massive harm to the movement. Sadie Smith laments how what she calls the ‘online wimmin mob’ ‘don’t seem to like feminism … there’s not much evidence they like women very much either’. Going on to say, ‘‘Check your privilege!’ has become the rallying cry of the Mob when faced with a woman with whom they disagree.’ In her words, you cannot join ‘a club that they seem to believe they have seized control of’.

In my experience, this is the case of all social movements on Twitter. One of the main features of postmodernity is the rise of identity politics. Every community from feminists to trans-rights activists, to far-right racists scream, ‘White male privilege!’, ‘cis privilege!’, ‘Liberal metropolitan elite!’ in what is often little more than a naked attempt to shut down debate. In doing so, these groups frequently tarnish the movements they claim to represent, and have formed themselves into highly-rigid Weberian status groups.

Weber defined the status group as ‘a plurality of persons, who, within a larger group, successfully claim … a special social esteem’. They form based on characteristics common to their members (gender, race etc.). Social media has facilitated the formation of these groups around identities. According to Weber, ‘status groups must possess a common and distinctive style of life. This entails a shared language …’ Amongst social media status groups, language is monopolised and offence claimed by people either not using the terms they define or other status groups using them. For example, take this tweet after the suicide of transgender teenager, Leelah Alcorn, regarding the subsequent #TransLivesMatter campaign: ‘Can’t help but feel the #TransLivesMatter hashtag appropriates from Black activism in some kind of way … Given that Leela was white.’ Social media has changed the way deviant social movements operate by increasingly removing the idea of solidarity and instead placing the utmost importance on how people identify themselves against the ‘other’, as if  being in this group itself is an achievement.  Furthermore, integral enlightenment ideals of freedom of speech and expression are being eroded by online status groups who gain instrumental power by monopolising the means of debate.

This brings me onto my major point. Social media is so powerful as a means of regulation and conformity because it functions as a perfect example of Foucault’s ‘panopticism’. Foucault based this idea on Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’, where the inmates in a circular prison are constantly under surveillance from a central tower whilst being shut off from other felons. Foucault applied this to society itself, stating, ‘He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power’. By using social media, ‘people are incited constantly to work on themselves under a public gaze’. Sauter views this as a positive, linking it to ‘age-old practices of self-writing’ and saying ‘online self-writing can be framed as a means for people to navigate a path for right and wrong conduct in the context of increasingly complex social realities’. I disagree. The self-writings of old thinkers were a means to discover the self; in contrast when we use social media we conform to societal pressures and norms and modify how we portray ourselves accordingly. This bolsters a shallow, consumerist society where we are judged on our interests, pursuits and, most importantly, our looks. Concepts of gender and beauty standards are reinforced through putting ourselves under the constant gaze of others.

Gutman claims ‘Rousseau wrote “to create a self … in the face of a hostile social order”’ Some may argue that social media facilitates this through online communities, but as I have already argued, these communities become highly restrictive and panoptic themselves, leading even deviants from the norm simply to conform to a new orthodoxy. Often this orthodoxy is even less forgiving than mainstream norms, as deviant groups perceive themselves as being under threat and consequently form very strong social bonds and rules. Crucially, the space–time compression inherent in postmodernity finalises the panopticon; not only our present actions are under surveillance, but what we published in the past can also be viewed, and even just one retweet of a tweet reaches a ‘mean audience of 1000’. Effectively, anything public we do can be seen at anytime, anywhere by anyone. This exerts enormous pressure to self-regulate, and we have seen careers destroyed and resignations of senior public officials as a result of them not conforming.

All this creates a climate where the self is not enriched, but marketed. Marx argued that ‘the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production … and with them the relations of society … [there is] a need of a constantly expanding market’. This is what has happened. We are living in ‘an age of advertisement’ … where we are advertising … ourselves (and our self-commodification).’ There are paid ‘personal branding’ gurus, LinkedIn encourages us to list our ‘skills’ to better sell ourselves on the labour market, we accumulate friends and followers as we would accumulate wealth and advertise this as a means of showing status. Businesses pay to advertise their products between updates from friends and family. As Harvey argued, neo-liberalism encourages ‘the commodification of everything’. This chimes with the idea that post-modernism is not a phenomenon in itself, but rather capitalism moving on from the commodification of products to the commodification of culture.

In my view, social media has not so much changed society, as amplified characteristics of postmodernity. While it has a power to do good by democratising news, postmodern traits of identity politics, the subsequent breaking of social solidarities and rampant individualism are intensified. A panoptic society where deviation is severely punished and the very foundations of the enlightenment thought are shaken is created. This is not liberation, but the movement of capitalism – which feeds off individualisation, increased competition and solidarity being destroyed – into our social world and culture. Finally, not only has our culture been commoditized, but we are increasingly moving towards the commodification of our very selves in this new, consumerist world. Perhaps we really are, in Marx’s words, ‘resolving personal worth into exchange value’.

What the Cathy Newman mosque fiasco tells us about the left and social media mobs

After overwhelmingly negative stories about Islam and South Asians recently, with the Paris shootings, ISIS and the Rotherham scandal, many mosques in the UK chose to host a ‘Visit my mosque’ open day, where people could come and look around their local mosque. This is a nice idea, aimed at increasing understanding and promoting the decent majority of Muslims. Sadly, things did not go according to plan. Channel 4 journalist and Telegraph columnist, Cathy Newman, tweeted to a horrified audience that she had been ‘ushered out’ of a mosque in Streatham, despite being ‘respectfully dressed’. Naturally, and quite rightly if this were true, people were outraged, and there were articles in The Daily Mail, Telegraph etc.

However, people quickly began to raise doubts about Cathy’s version of events. It soon transpired that in fact she had gone to a mosque which was not taking part in the open day, and she was meant to go to one 15 minutes away where her film crew were waiting. Okay, a mix-up perhaps, no big deal. Except yesterday CCTV footage emerged completely contradicting Cathy’s version of events. She had not been ushered out at all, but rather directed by a Muslim man away from the mosque after entering and removing her shoes. According to him, he was directing her to a neighbouring church, confused that she should be coming here to pray. She then leaves the mosque alone with no further confrontation.

Oh dear, Cathy. To make things worse, the mosque then received numerous threats of violence, including death threats, the first since they opened in 1978, according to spokesman, Aslam Ijaz. In addition, determined to shoehorn in ‘the patriarchy’ somewhere, Cathy had claimed she thought the mosque was ‘men-only’. But in fact it transpires the mosque was one of ‘the first in the area’ to have sections for both men and women. Obviously researching doesn’t matter to Cathy, as we all know she can ‘smell the sexism a mile off’ even when it’s not there, so it makes perfect sense to her to just put it down to misogyny in order to further her agenda.

So far, we’ve seen a pretty shameful story, but what is most interesting is the reaction, or rather lack of reaction, of Twitter. Usually the site is the watering hole of liberals’ own brand of bigotry and groupthink, with keyboard warriors determined to root out the merest intimation of perceived misogyny or racism and subject its perpetrator to public shame and disgrace; there was no such reaction in this case. There were some tweets from, mainly Islamic, individuals, who were rightly very insulted at these lies which unjustly fuelled anti-Islamic sentiments, but a quick analysis shows that tweets containing #CathyNewmanLies and #CathyResign were over 230,000 fewer in number than those with ‘Cardiff’, the bottom trend at the time. They reached a pitiful 3,500 approx in total.

I don’t know the figures for outrages caused by the scientist who embodied everything that is wrong with men by wearing a shirt, Dapper Laughs or even Benedict Cumberbatch after his ‘coloured’ remarks, but I’m pretty sure they were far higher than this. So why has Cathy gotten away so lightly?

Very simple. She fits the criteria that ‘liberals’ like. She is (ostensibly) on the ‘left’, she’s an ‘outspoken’ feminist, female and middle-class. She can therefore do no wrong. Excuses such as ‘it was a misunderstanding’ or ‘we need to hear her side of the story’ which would have you lumped in with the worst of humanity if you tried to apply them to a right-winger, a man who has been declared misogynistic or even Katie Hopkins are lavishly used to try and absolve her of any guilt. The left has effectively closed ranks because Cathy is ‘like us’.

Sadly, there are issues minority women face that are criminally ignored by white feminists. However, Cathy has chosen to ignore them completely, and instead manufacture outrage as part of her war against ‘the patriarchy’. Well, I’m afraid she has chosen the wrong battleground here to fight this issue, and has only further exposed the problems of much of the modern feminist movement and left in doing so.

#CameronMustGo is dead, long live #CameronMustGo?

If you’ve been on Twitter at all these past couple of weeks, you will doubtless have noticed #CameronMustGo trending somewhere around the top of the dashboard. What began as an idea by two twitter users very quickly escalated into a hashtag that lasted nearly two weeks. Now, cynical as I am about Twitterstorms and the impact of hashtags, I have to hand it to them that that is rather an impressive feat. However, two days ago, the unthinkable happened: #CameronMustGo stopped trending.

The response was immediate. ‘TWITTER BLOCK FREE SPEECH!?’, ‘LOOKS LIKE #CAMERONMUSTGO HAS BEEN CENSORED’, ‘NEED A NEW HASHTAG NOW TWITTER HAVE BLOCKED IT?’. I even saw one bold user venture, ‘I’m not sure if Tory MPs or Right-wing press would be bold enough to try this. MI6??’ That’s right. Battles with ISIS in Iraq, the CIA releasing a highly damaging report on torture, and MI6 are concerned with stopping a hashtag which has made ermm … well, little real impact at best. Obviously, it has not been blocked. The idea that some billionaires sitting in Silicon Valley would care at all about shutting down a UK hashtag is laughable, and the idea that David Cameron would risk being seen to stamp on free speech to stop a hashtag which has made ermm … well, little real impact at best, is even more laughable. No, the reason for its disappearance is very simple. Twitter programmed the trending algorithm so only tweets which show a sudden spike relative to how long they have been trending/if they have trended at all will be shown. This is why we are treated to trends like #ARSvBIR when there is a football match and #StereoKicksOut when XFactor is on, and we don’t just constantly have #1DFansUnite and Zoella as the top trends.

Phew, so the dark forces of censorship aren’t out for #CameronMustGo, time to call it a day then? Well, no, the farce only continued. Another prominent Twitter user suggested using #CameronOut instead, as this would trend for as long if it got the same interest. A fair suggestion if you believe in this method of online activism surely? This is where it gets good. The two twitter users who began #CameronMustGo started a counter campaign to stop people using #CameronOut. They claim this ‘dilutes the original’ and means it won’t trend (which it won’t anyway) and, #CameronMustGo is still a great place to collect the data (whatever that means). Another claim is that #CameronMustGo is, ‘still trending elsewhere’.

Right. This last argument is absurd. As anyone who knows anything about social media will tell you, it is flippant and ephemeral, and a hashtag which yesterday had Twitter acting like an individual was as abhorrent as Fred West and the living embodiment of everything wrong with society itself will be gone tomorrow and basically forgotten (see Emily Thornberry, Dapper Laughs, Michael Fabricant, Lord Freud etc.) So yes, #CameronMustGo is still trending on sites that monitor total tweets, but no one goes on them apart from people who want to measure hashtags they’re interested in. It isn’t reaching a large audience at all. In Twitter terms, #CameronMustGo is completely dead.

And this brings me to my final point. Good. Whilst it was impressive at the start and did show there is palpable anger, the hashtag descended into memes displaying complete falsehoods, grotesque, poorly-made photoshops with lurid green and purple text that looked like they belong on MSPaint and absurdly bad taste photoshops with Tory Ministers as Nazi officers and Hitler himself. Despite the bold claims that the hashtag ‘gave people information’ or ‘collected the ammunition in one place’ in reality it just made the left on Twitter look an like ill-informed, spiteful, unprofessional mob. I am sure that for every one person who clicked on it and went ‘Interesting’, 100 went ‘Fuck me, what nutters’.

The fact is, the majority of people who use or view political hashtags either strongly agree with them or strongly disagree. If the creators of #CameronMustGo really want to make a positive change, they should now accept the hashtag is dead in the water and in risk of becoming a laughing stock and annoyance, and call on people to go out and campaign for Labour on the streets and on the telephones, rather than reaching for the next hilarious ‘IDS as Goering’ meme.