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Political activism in the Facebook era… August 30, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Michael Brennan wrote a piece on the rise of SF. And it was much as you’d expect. Matters getting more tricky, possible need to go into coalition with FF. Ten year strategy. And so on. But this was particularly interesting to me:

When SF was trying to build its support in the days of the Celtic Tiger, it was easy to get activists to turn up at branch meetings. It was their only outlet to vent their frustration at the political system.

But now, in the smartphone era, SF is finding it more difficult. ‘So many people think that having a rant on Facebook counts as activism. They feel satisfied and they are less likely to come to cumann meeting,’ said one senior party source.

I wonder is that true, whether of SF or of politically engaged people in general?

Comments»

1. Mick Fealty - August 30, 2016

That’s a great insight. A lot of online voice is just babble and bubble which doesn’t really convert to real world votes.

One reason I’m deeply sceptical of Momentum is that on the ground during the EU Ref these 10,000s of new recruits were utterly invisible.

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Mick Fealty - August 30, 2016

PS, is there a link?

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

Sadly not, sbp pay walled

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dublinstreams - August 31, 2016

there is a link of course to the article of course there is, though Im not being allowed post it

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Ed - August 30, 2016

The EU referendum isn’t really much of a bench-mark there in fairness. The left-wing case against Brexit, as articulated by Corbyn and others, was largely a lesser-of-two-evils one. A bit like the case for voting for Clinton rather than Trump in the US. I expect the majority of those who voted for Sanders and campaigned for him in the primaries will vote for Clinton, but I’d be surprised if they were all fired up with enthusiasm, hitting the streets in the way they might have been if Sanders was the candidate.

To put it another way: I saw one of the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs getting snarky on Twitter after someone posted a picture of a Momentum rally in Hull (I think), where they had taken a bit of time to honour local veterans of the International Brigades (it was the anniversary of the battle of Madrid or something like that); the Corbyn-sceptic (keeping it comradely) was very irate about this, and demanded to know where those clenched-fist salutes had been during the EU referendum campaign? Now, there may well be people who can get as worked up in defence of Brussels as their forefathers did in defence of Madrid, but I wouldn’t trust them to run a political party.

The real test would be a major strike, or a British equivalent of the water charges movement, something like that; then we would see how easy it is to convert the fairly amorphous support base behind Corbyn into something more solid and tangible (which won’t be easy, I agree).

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

And just to support your points above where it mattered in terns of votes LP voters did vote markedly more in favour of remaining in the EU.

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gendjinn - August 30, 2016

“….I expect the majority of those who voted for Sanders and campaigned for him in the primaries will vote for Clinton,….”

Not from where I’m sitting in California. Most of those that voted for Sanders might vote for Clinton but I can guarantee that the vast majority of those that campaigned for Sanders will not be voting for Clinton.

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Ed - August 31, 2016

Maybe so. I’ve seen polls that show overwhelming majorities of Sanders voters opting for Clinton but I don’t know of any research on the more hard-core supporters.

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gendjinn - August 31, 2016

You’ve seen polls of registered Democrats who were Sanders supporters. You haven’t seen a single poll of Sanders supporters, a majority of which are registered IND.

Not quite the same thing now is it. And interesting that every single poll on the question made that systemic error. Now ask yourself who the media now serves.

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Ed - August 31, 2016

Actually where I got this from was a number of articles by left-wing journalists in the US ridiculing the trope being pushed by Clinton supporters that the alleged ‘Bernie Bros’ were going off to vote for Trump because that’s just the kind of people they were. They were pointing out that, judging by the polls, fewer Sanders voters were planning to back Trump than Clinton supporters planned to back McCain back in 2008. I think the liberal-centrist media is kind of torn on this one between A) wanting to maximize the Clinton vote and B) wanting to depict Sanders supporters as horrible, nasty, misogynist, irrational, destructive and so on (I’ve seen several columns by Very Serious Liberal Commentators comparing them to the KPD in the Weimar Republic, that sort of thing).. So I guess there’s pressure in both directions to either exaggerate how many people are supporting Clinton or how many people aren’t.

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2. Roger Cole - August 30, 2016

Mick, I am just of the phone to a friend in Manchester who told me there were thousands of people turning up to hear Corbyn despite the absolute hatred of him by the UK neo-liberal war mongering corporate media. They are turning up due to that fact that social media is undermining the the power of the corporate media. I am certain the same is happening in Ireland. Maybe if the 10,000s of new recruits were invisible was because they did not support the emerging neo-liberal war mongering emerging European Empire whose Leaders are increasingly demanding the creation of a European Army.

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Mick Fealty - August 30, 2016

Roger, they were *nowhere* on the streets knocking doors when we needed them in June.

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gendjinn - August 30, 2016

Tory voters shouldn’t complain when their Labour fails to save them from their fate.

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3. Deadon@hell.com - August 30, 2016

It’s hard to go along and rant against the system at a meeting of a neoliberal party, sounds like the Provo head boy is a bit pissed off there is less suckers out there for them to use.

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4. sonofstan - August 30, 2016

I suppose the other side of that is that political movements of the past organised themselves according to the prevailing social practices of the day; when you found loads of people together in a factory/ at a fair/ outside church on a Sunday, then that’s where you organised. Equally, when people read pamplets, met in 17th/ 18th century coffee houses, then that’s where politics happened.

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sonofstan - August 30, 2016

‘pamphlets’ even

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

That was habermas’s thesis on the public spheres genesis wasn’t it and yet isn’t there the danger that it elides reflection on political activity with political activity and (arguably) the exercise of political power all three being distinct.

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sonofstan - August 30, 2016

Habermas’ view was that the public sphere was a short- lived thing, inhabited by men in a few countries once upon a time, but then destroyed by the mass media. Its singularity and maleness has been contested quite a lot since then, and tbf to H. he’s adjusted his own views a little.

I’ve been reading a fair bit about early christianity and its spread through the first century, and while some of it was down to the genius of Lenin Paul, mostly, the infrastructure provided by the empire for trade and administration made possible to lightning dissemination of a counter-hegemony.

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

Yeah, never been quite convinced by H’s unrefined thesis. Oddly re yr last paragraph that’s one of the reasons for my antipathy to Brexit, the loss of broader structures for the UK left that would allow for building a could ter hegemomy

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Torheit - August 30, 2016

Sounds very interesting about Early Christianity. What’s the book called?

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sonofstan - August 30, 2016

The First Urban Christians by Meeks is where I started. Fascinating book. Favourite takeaway – more people in the first century in Europe and Asia Minor were better travelled than at any time before the 19th c.

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Torheit - August 30, 2016

Thanking you, sirrah.

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Joe - August 30, 2016

The First Urban Christians by Meek. Nomination for first Book Club book?

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5. irishelectionliterature - August 30, 2016

A lot depends how you use Social Media, The Anti Water Charges groups have been fairly successful in that context.
On the other hand there were a number of ‘new parties’ that grew out of Facebook and assumed page likes turned into votes. Some failed to get off the ground , some rain candidates that polled very poorly.
A combination of activism online and offline is whats needed.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

I think that has to be it, and with the emphasis on the latter

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Mick Fealty - August 30, 2016

This guy is well worth reading: http://goo.gl/QnQsSf. Even if it is more to do with education, I think it confirms that what’s needed is a qualitative shift in the way parties and institutions engaged with the new digital commons.

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dublinstreams - August 30, 2016

successful at what?

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6. dublinstreams - August 30, 2016

“it was easy to get activists to turn up at branch meetings” in what way did activist vent their frustration at SF branch meetings? doesn’t vent suggest dissipate is that SF person think branch meeting are for? why would an SF “activist” think ranting on Facebook is activism? What would/could be done at a cummain meeting that would be satisfying?

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

I’m guessing the rants aren’t against SF but broader systemic issues but that the rants are replacing actual activist engagement with those issues on the ground

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dublinstreams - August 30, 2016

yes but what use is rant at SF cummain branch meeting?, how is that activism? because its an opportunity to turn them into leaflets deliverers?

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

From the point of view of a party that’s exactly it, and don’t dismiss the importance if leaflet delivery, sometimes it is the one way parties can get to meet the electorate

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dublinstreams - August 30, 2016

I was going to say that delivery of leaflets is still effective but thought it too obvious a point, my query is is delivering leaflets activism? it may be used may get to meet the electorate when its combined with a canvass but its it mostly the long time activists doing the canvassing in order to get one person elected, so is getting people elected the be all and end all of activism?

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

You’re absolutely right I think. Hopefully it stretches into campaigns, membership of community and other organisations. But having people in front of you who can be ‘asked’ to participate is a lot handier than having them atomised and sitting at computers…

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dublinstreams - August 30, 2016

atomised you mean not organised on constituency or sub-constituency cumann basis? what makes somebody go to a SF cumman meeting? what happens at a cumman meetings, how often do they occur? I presumme by cumman meeting he doesn’t mean a public issue meeting? who would go to the bother of joining Sinn Fein and then think a rant of facebook was activism?

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

Well, organised yes, but paper members, people who don’t come to branch (cumman) meetings or campaign meetings or feel that by putting in their oar online they’re substituting for actual attendance. When I was in the WP there were regular branch meetings, then there were meetings between branches in Dublin, there were party committee meetings (these were elected positions IIRC for the most part). Then beyond that were campaign meetings or attendance at, say, meetings held in communities by other sometimes/often non political groups where we’d pitch up – residents, issues facing community, and so on. I remember in about 1984 or 85 hearing Richard Bruton address one of the latter in Artane where about five or six of us turned up to put our viewpoint. Then there were annual collections, never popular them. And paper sales, every Sunday i did around the pubs in Kilbarrack and Raheny. There were leaflet drops, etc.

In DL there was SFA of the on the ground stuff when I was a member for two years, but a sign of their degradation was that I was a member of two party committees. A lot of committees, a lot of stuff in head office. Not enough on the ground in communities in my opinion.

Later with Tony Gregory – well, he’d run his own leaflet drops/meet and greet every week. For two years before an election he’d go out of a Sunday morning and do a full constituency leaflet/canvass. I went with him most Sunday’s for that year or two period. There was also attendance at meetings, community, housing, issues facing residents, (though of course that depends in no small part in having elected reps – the times I sat in someones front room with Christy Burke etc at a residents group meeting I can’t count). And again so on, so forth.

So it’s a huge amount of work if you’re heavily involved. And it depends on a lot of people giving time and energy and commitment. My commitment waxed and waned. Years where successively I’d be heavily involved followed by years where I wasn’t to be honest. Once the creature came along I switched a lot of my political work to a fairly specific area which I could do without having to tread the pavement and which was a bit more broad based and not restricted to one group or formation.

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dublinstreams - August 30, 2016

you’ve given more detail then the superficial remark in that article. was all your effort efficient? does the SF rep expect every facebook ranter to do the same for SF?

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

Great question ds and one I think that cuts to the heart of things, I wish it was asked more widely. With the wp, yes but, the but being that pat Macartan was elected on their behalf. I’ve mixed feelings about that, though I guess a good left of the lp cohort of TDs was essential during the period of time. With DL the party and branches devolved to fiefdoms but I want there long enough in a way to fully judge. I fear it turned into life support for their TDs to no great effect more widely. With TG I’d say unequivocally yes, even if there were issues of representation that arise with all inds ie who do they represent, what democratic legitimation do they have between elections, what reference groups they have etc.

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WorldbyStorm - August 30, 2016

Re SF, they should expect every member to have a minimum level of activity and that should be well away from FB etc.

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7. Ed - August 30, 2016

Would I be right in guessing the quote from the SBP article comes from a ‘senior party source’ who is in favour of reorientating towards coalition with FF? Very easy to blame the base for demobilizing, but not necessarily true. SF certainly took an arm’s length approach to the biggest off-line mobilization of people around a political issue this state has seen for many years (one that owed a lot to online engagement).

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8. benmadigan - August 30, 2016

here’s one suggestion for how to combine local activism and SF cumanns with social media networking. https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/building-the-irish-republic/

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9. Dermot O Connor - August 30, 2016

FF/FG have forever lost the authority to command small parties to enter coalition. They’ve both accepted the principle that a party can do what FF has done in this Dail, and sit on the sidelines, holding a sword of damocles over the government’s head.

The days when it was a binary choice of ‘enter coalition or have another election’ are over. Which will come in very useful for the smarter smaller parties in the future.

I don’t think this has registered with the FFG types yet.

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10. Brian Hanley - August 30, 2016

In my opinion, and that’s all it is, social media ‘activism’ won’t win a council seat, let alone a Dáil seat. At its worst its a substitute for actually engaging with people outside the political bubble- there’s a presumption that everyone is online 24 hours a day when big swathes of people have jobs, family lives etc that mean their internet usage is constrained. At best it is useful for spreading news quickly and promoting events. In general I find people are prone to saying things online that they would never say in political meetings or to people’s faces- in fact saying things that would ensure they were barred from most political or union meetings, or that would provoke punch-ups with every political discussion. I rarely see discussions that take onboard there might be several viewpoints with validity; denunciation is far easier than convincing people. The SF spokesperson quoted above may have been making a self-serving point but it was still a valid point.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - August 31, 2016

I think that’s crucial. Social media is quite separate to political activity. It’s not a substitute for same. This isn’t to say it has no uses, as you say, spreading news and information and promoting events is good. But beyond that? I’m unconvinced. People get elected by dint of campaigning on the ground. Campaigns get moving by dint of campaigning on the ground. And none of this is new. IEL pointed to a heap of supposed political groups madly dependent on social media which got nothing at elections.

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Gewerkschaftler - August 31, 2016

I’ve never used Facebook, but reluctantly recognize its importance in announcing / publicising events. And trust others to do that.

Apart from that, it has no role that lightly moderated blogs such as this can’t do better, and is no substitute for face to face meetings.

Provided these aren’t stage-managed Leninoid-style.

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11. roddy - August 30, 2016

As someone who lives in a SF electoral stronghold, who has never seen my candidate or multiple candidates defeated in 25 years,I can say that facebook contributed absolutely nothing to that success.

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12. dublinstreams - August 31, 2016

the SF rep is saying that you used to only be able to vent your thoughts to other people in person and now you can do it online, I hope he making a deeper pyschological point then that there’s anybody thinking that you can win a council seat with online campaigning.

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13. roddy - August 31, 2016

Facebook is a medium best suited for teenage girls to giggle to each other on.!

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CMK - August 31, 2016

Showing your age there roddy! Teenagers have largely dumped facebook – once the Ma and Da started getting FB accounts they moved on to other social media.

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14. roddy - August 31, 2016

You’re talking to somebody who still uses an old style Nokia phone,calls a Nissan a Datsun,still calls the premiership the first division ,calls rte radio “Athlone” and wants the 6 counties to stay in “the common market”!

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