Do you remember your class wind-up merchant?
He says that you fancy the class teacher.
You turn to him and shout ‘I don’t fancy the teacher!’
Everyone else overhears. At best they think it’s funny that you are angry. At worst they think that you fancy the teacher.
Politics can be very like this.
Labour’s plan to nationalise travel agents*
One day Labour will say this in Parliament:
‘We are against hitting children. That’s why we must nationalise travel agents’.
They ask the SNP to vote for it. The SNP refuse because it makes no sense.
Labour spend the next 48 hours attacking the SNP for wanting to hit children.
So the SNP hit back – loudly explaining that this is rubbish, and that they never hit children.
Why is this bad for the SNP?
Firstly many people just hear ‘SNP… hit… children’. And at some level the idea that the SNP are anti children sinks in. There’s vast psychological evidence of this.
Secondly most of those attacks were in a Twitter bubble. People in that bubble were either Labour activists, or activists of other parties. Not many swing voters. But every SNP rebuttal meant that a few more normal people heard the attack. Why? Because social networks see this argument, and give it more reach.
It’s really easy to assume that what we hear on social media is what everybody hears. But in reality very little of it gets to normal people – and you can see this for yourself if you look at polling changes or simply the conversations that happen when we are canvassing.
Thirdly this distracts attention. Labour are in a mess on Brexit, and have a terrible leader. So if everybody spends the next 2 days talking about whether the SNP want to hit children, that’s a win for them.
This is, of course, exactly what the Leave campaign did in 2016. It’s trolling by another name.
So what can we do to fight trolls?
Just as with the wind-up merchant, the key thing is to avoid a fight. Don’t feed the troll.
You can do two more things:
1. Stick to saying things that help us politically. For instance that Brexit is a disaster for the NHS, cutting £40bn from public spending. And that Labour is in favour of Brexit.
In school context this is making yourself more popular so that the wind-up merchant’s attacks aren’t listened to.
2. Innoculate us against attacks by saying positive things about our policies. For instance the Lib Dems have been campaigning for years for fair mental health funding. Something that Labour chose to leave out of the NHS constitution.
Find out more about troll fighting
You can find out more about this in various things I’ve written – including two articles on how to stop Brexit (part 1, part 2), various media comments, and a speech I recently gave on Trump’s communications techniques.
* Labour really did have a plan recently that implied they might want to nationalise travel agents.