"The Labour Party and the wider anti-racist movement need to do better at placing counter narratives online"
I’ve always considered clicktivism a pejorative term. Tweeting, posting and hashtags to me felt too easy, not enough hard work to be real activism. Central to my understanding of activism was going out, knocking on doors, talking to people face to face who disagree with you and putting the miles in. Activism came at some kind of sacrifice, time, and or money.
These criticisms of clicktivism in social justice movements has been the precise reason that the far right have been able to co-opt, and organise through online spaces. There is a very low entry for participation, little social cost of joining and no need to spend evenings in meetings. Attending a British National Party local meeting is more difficult that watching Tommy Robinson on Youtube or retweeting an article from the fake-news site Breitbart.
The anti-racist/facist movement have been slow to respond to this growing far right presence online. I think firstly because we have rightly built movements on community organising principles placing people and relationships at its heart.
Secondly because of the atomised nature of the far right presence online it is hard to understand and coordinate against. This is not UKIP or the National Front; an organisation which has meetings, agendas and candidates in an election. This is what Hope Not Hate in their recent State of Hate publication called a post-organisational far right. They are organic movements born out of 4chan message boards and have very little in the way of traditional hierarchies apart from several connect ‘leaders’ like Tommy Robinson.
I was shocked in reading the below paragraph from the recent Hope Not Hate report mentioned above:
’The far right’s online threat as brought into stark relief in the days immediately after the Westminster terrorist attach in March 2017. The most mentioned person on Twitter in the UK during the 24 hours that followed was Paul Joseph Watson the London-based editor of the US conspiracy website InfoWars, with a series of vehemently anti-muslim tweets. A video shot at the scene of the attack by Stephen Lennon, alias ‘Tommy Robinson’ - the founder of the anti-Muslim street gang, the English Defence League (EDL) - was watched over three million times in just 72 hours.’
This level of reach for the far right is unprecedented and although is includes people outside the UK; it represents an international, organised far right. Most worryingly it represents the beginnings of a unified far right.
Following the arrest of Tommy Robinson from perjury recently we have seen these online spaces now moving into physical spaces with some protests amassing tens of thousands of people under the banner of #FreeTommy. Their message of hate in a veil of respectability around family values, protection for children and free speech should not go unchallenged.
I would offer three possible policy solutions for the Labour Party in government to look to combat the threat of the far-right.
Firstly, the Labour Party and the wider anti-racist movement need to do better at placing counter narratives online. Counter narratives that not only are specifically political but support cultural groups, music, film and poetry. This does not mean necessarily that the Labour Party puts on music festivals or commissions poetry but support the institutions and networks that facilitate cultural renewal: public spaces, community groups, experts like Hope Not Hate and local government.
We tell stories to ourselves, to those that we love and to the wider world. To combat the far right we need to tell better stories, crucially online so we don’t vacate this online space to messages of hate.
Secondly, the Labour Party in power should take a hardline approach with social media companies, that facilitate this hate message. Social media companies need to move away from a libertarian lack of responsibility for content on their platforms towards a values based approach to how they police their platforms.
Thirdly the Labour Party needs to transform our immigration system from top to bottom. An end to the disastrous and inhumane hostile environment policy, alongside a managed integration process for migrants including English classes, employment support, and social activities locally. Crucially the immigration system should created with local people not enforced on them by a faceless home office. This Labour Party policy has not only caused pain to so many families, but become a bureaucratic nightmare for local authorities, SME’s and universities. The Brexit vote gives the opportunity to make our immigration system the most human centred in the world.
The far right do not win elections anymore, something we should celebrate. They are however focused on changing culture, specifically through online lies and hate. The Labour Party knows how it feels to loose one of their own with the murder of Joe Cox in 2016, so it falls to Labour to do everything it can to stop the spread of the far right in this country. If we don’t the UK will be known around the world as inward looking, and unfriendly; a place where the far right are able to thrive.
Sam Murphy is a Young Fabian member.