Twitter can be a dangerous tool. Its democratisation of protest and ability to connect the masses has been regularly documented and the social media platform’s ability to influence is unprecedented. Tweeting in haste or anger, or indeed, under the influence, has wrecked many a career, as Labour MP Emily Thornberry found out two weeks ago.
To date, multiple individuals have faced prison due to online malice and stupidity. Alongside Blackberry Messenger, Twitter played a key logistical role during the London riots back in 2011 and more recently in Ferguson, Ohio. I regularly tweet things I probably shouldn’t and I’ve faced death threats so many times they’ve lost all power.
However, I have not committed what I consider the cardinal sin of social media, and that is of holding a misplaced belief that just because I can put my briefly worded opines and howls of indignation online for others to see, that I should be heard, or that my voice actually matters.
Because, frankly, it doesn’t make the blindest bit of difference; no matter how heartfelt, the power of the Hashtag is incredibly limited and rarely has this been so obvious as with #CameronMustGo.
With more support than #YesScotland, the main hashtag used during the recent Scottish referendum, the anti-Conservative hashtag #CameronMustGo has been tweeted or retweeted over a million times. Largely accompanied by tweets criticising the government’s approach to the National Health Service, education and welfare reform, the hashtag’s fervour was only increased following this week’s Autumn Statement.
It was first Tweeted following the news that two RBS bankers would escape jail because their embarrassment had been punishment enough, seen by many as a reflection of societal injustice and Cameron’s close ties with the banks that so many people wrongly blame for the tenuous state of the British economy.
And although the vast majority of the Twitterati engaging in the pseudo-debate are firmly situated on the left, there is an increasing section who are now tweeting the message, who believe Cameron should be ousted for altogether different reasons; weakness on Europe, commitment to foreign aid spending and a massive welfare state, alongside the general perception that Cameron is utterly useless and about as much a true Conservative as Ed Miliband is an inspiring public speaker.
Following the hashtag’s success are the predictable howls from the left at the perceived injustice of their collective voice not receiving coverage in the national media. This is reminiscent of the righteous indignation witnessed when UNITE, UNISON and other trade union dinosaurs order yet another futile march through the capital, disrupting traffic and irritating Londoners, then kick off when this fails to make the headlines, as if sheer volume of voices equates to a worthwhile message.
This sort of Russell Brand politics, revolution through mindless noise and outraged squeals, stands in frank juxtaposition to the worrying rates of voter apathy, especially in younger voters. People demand to be heard yet do their own cause such little merit.
For now, Cameron is safe. By next week, the momentary amusement of #CameronMustGo will have passed for even the most committed commentator. Twitter is by nature transient and faddy and long may this remain; while it provides a brilliant platform for many who otherwise would have no voice, it is important to recognise that 140 characters of shouty capitals and catchy hashtags are not indicative of voter intentions, public feeling or any degree of sense.
Twitter itself is like a social media embodiment of the phrase “empty vessels make the most noise”. It has its uses but we shouldn’t quite let go of the fact that the vast majority of Tweets are about cats or Justin Bieber, the latter of which just topping the left-wing Twitterati moral-outrage brigade in the intelligence stakes.