Name-calling and intolerance: the disappointing social media legacy of 2015s election

It was impossible to miss the comments spewed angrily on social media in the immediate aftermath of 2015s General Election. From brandishing all eleven million Conservative voters as:

selfish, arrogant, narrowminded bigots,

to vandalizing a World War Two memorial with

Tory scum,

some of the disappointed voters weren’t shy to share their feelings.

Tory poster

So why was social media awash with people deriding those who voted differently to them? If comments on Facebook and on blogposts are anything to go by, it’s because people who vote Conservative are intolerant and selfish bigots. But given that a bigot is someone who is intolerant of those who hold opposing views, by making such accusations aren’t people displaying the very intolerance they say they detest?

Some argued it’s because our electoral system, which enables a party that gets just 36.9% of the vote to form a majority Government, is not truly democratic.   A sound argument, until you recall that only four years ago 67.9% of voters opted for our first-past-the-post system in the referendum. And was there such an outcry in 2005 when Labour won on 35.2% of the vote?  Is it not a little ironic to argue for democracy, but then show a steadfast intolerance towards people who voted differently?

Although not in the same league as selfish bigots, I saw one post denouncing the PMs wife as a tart. Assuming we aren’t talking about the sweet pastry variety, I wondered on what grounds such a comment could be founded: when I consider Samantha Cameron, and the other leader’s wives, I see supportive, patient, probably long-suffering, non-limelight-hogging, strong and composed women.

Sense of humour, compassion, kindness and intelligence are just some of the attributes that bring friends together. But is it enough? Apparently some people have severed social media ties upon learning that friends don’t share the same political leanings. Who can blame them for not wanting their newsfeed clogged up with political fanfare and condemnations, but to abruptly jettison a friend from your social media accounts just because you voted differently, is that not a form of discrimination: to presume that nothing but your own view is acceptable? As a country, we promote freedom of speech and diversity, so how can defriending someone, for voting differently, resonate with our western ideology?

Usually, I try to remain engaged with such people in the hope that I might be able to change their views through debate,

said Rebecca Roache on blog post If you’re a conservative, I’m not your friend.     Said blog post resulted in an outpouring of responses; mostly shocked that the author was treating a large number of people – one in four of the voters – with apparent contempt and in so doing inadvertently arguing against tolerance, respect and diversity. Embracing a full and free exchange of opinions in politics is something to be encouraged, but isn’t it close-minded to do so with only the intent of conversion?

For me, politics, like many things, isn’t a simple case of I am right and you are wrong, or vice versa.   Things aren’t always black or white; in most situations there are shades imbetween, dare I say it shades of grey that are worth considering! In the run up to the election, social media proved itself to be a hugely powerful tool for each party: an easy and instant way to share information and present worthwhile arguments or sound economic, social and environmental aspirations.  So how disappointing that one of the lasting legacy’s in this election, on social media, will be the negative outpourings from some disappointed voters who refused to consider any merit or worth in other people’s opinions, and displayed intolerance by readily-insulting their intelligence and morality. Surely a more constructive way to try and change a future outcome would be to learn why eleven million voters chose the Conservative party, rather than attacking them with words?  I am no philosopher or economist, but I suspect it’s safe to assume that most of us – and most politicians – want the same positive things for our country; we just differ on which are the best ways to get there.  But one thing is certain: the counter-productive elements of confrontation and name-calling are best left to the playground.

The Week, May 16, 2015

The Week, May 16, 2015