[Outside the inferno of the hostile public sphere…]
“You cannot imagine to what a disease the itch of news is grown”
John Cooper, 1667.
The public face of this election has suddenly threatened to turn this day into one of the low points in my experience of British politics, rather than the high I had hoped for. Never did I imagine that so many friends and acquaintances would attempt to dictate who I vote for. How dare the privacy of the polling booth, one of the most sacrosanct occasions of personal sovereignty and modern democracy, be spilled with such liberal contempt into the baying public arena? [Edit: With more on Facebook’s breach of privacy, see Al’s ‘Social Media Fails‘]
The greater sharing of information, the extended reach for campaigning, and the innovative use of new media for political purposes are all to be respected and admired. We are at a time when we could be united in celebrating an open campaign which only goes to improve the (relative) democracy we are fortunate to have in this country. Instead, the derisory, majoritarian and adversarial tone of political ‘speech-acts’ has now shown that peer pressure has forced its way into youth politics, as I feared it might.
There are now those who feel confident/smug enough to reveal their private vote. Presumably, that’s because of the public impression they believe it portrays of them. (Why else, after all?) Others believe it is their ground to go beyond the campaign line and tell people who they should/should not be voting for, leaving heavy-handed insinuations about the gross misjudgment that anyone who may disagree would show. Were I to reveal I had voted a certain way, I run the risk of alienating myself from a good proportion of friends, with whom politics had never been a dividing line before.
The ‘itch of news’ as it were, the desire for man to have their voice heard as loudly as possible, is turning social networking into a barbed popularity contest. How times have I seen X labelled a ‘tw*t’ or worse with no better reason than that it’s the popular thing to do. I’m glad facebook politics has not won the day; there’s not enough maturity behind it.
Of course, it is more complicated than I am describing, but the bottom line is that this is a recipe for further disintegration.