New media - now protecting the establishment instead of democracy

Written by Tom Freeman on 17 January 2017 in Comment

When the new media backs the establishment, it can't be called 'alternative' any more, writes Tom Freeman

Internet - credit Conor Lawless


In typically bombastic style last week, Donald Trump highlighted how much he has relied on alternative media for favourable coverage.

The self-styled ‘alt-right media’ seems an oxymoron. How can media that is alternative prop up a billionaire president? 

Perhaps a contributing factor has been the tendency for socially liberal democrats to increasingly favour right-wing economic models, which eventually allowed a right-wing website the space to point to a black president and ask if its readers feel excluded.


Trump’s election is worrying, but we do democracy an injustice if we fail to address the discontent that placed him in the White House

Twitter storm over 'sexist' tweet by SNP MSP

But it is not just in America, or indeed on the right, that alternative media is in flux.

The struggle of pro-independence online magazine Bella Caledonia to find financial viability should not be a surprise to anyone following the constitutional debate in Scotland.

Bella, set up in 2007 by editor Mike Small and socialist author Kevin Williamson, is a place for thought-provoking and challenging opinion. At one point, it claimed to have a readership of 370,000 a month.

Sadly in 2017, however, voters do not appear to want their own opinions challenged. 

And those who still campaign for an independent Scotland appear to want their online constitutional commentariat to offer an antidote to what they perceive as an ‘SNPbad’ conspiracy. 

In other words, they want unequivocal backing for the SNP establishment and a pathological pursuit of the demise of the Labour Party. Diatribe and pedantry is favoured over ideological debate, if social media is to be believed.

Dissenting individuals within the Yes movement get a torrid time on social media if they challenge SNP policy.

Most prominently, the idea the Yes-supporting Scottish Greens should use some of their democratic leverage to win concessions from an SNP budget seems totally unacceptable. Never mind the 150,000 votes the party won last year, or the lack of an SNP overall majority, the Greens would seem to be expected to fall in line and eat their cereal, and the press is lambasted for granting the party any coverage.

Growing mistrust of established news outlets was exemplified in the response to coverage of John Mason’s controversial tweet where he compared No voters to a girl who “does not always say yes first time”. 

Whatever he meant, wasn’t Mason aware of the ‘no means no’ anti-rape slogan which has been used worldwide for decades?

Mason clearly isn’t the first politician to say something silly or misjudged, especially online, and then be regretful. What is new is the scale of the criticism of the media for simply reporting it. Corbyn supporters do it. Trump does it himself. 

In Scotland there is an equally rabid pack of potential censors on the unionist side of the debate too, but it is far less relevant. Why? Because the pressure is not on them to convince anyone of anything. Their cause was won. 

Unlike his defenders, Mason recognises previous No voters need to be won round. Ironically, he is far more likely to be critical of his government too.

I rarely hear the debate over Scotland’s future in the local pubs or supermarket checkouts now. Apart from in the much maligned “mainstream media”, debate now resides in the darker corners of social media, the digital margins where only those who support the constitutional status quo would want it to remain.

No one will convince anyone of anything by discussing Twitter ‘cricket rules’ or who has or has not blocked whom on the social media platform. 

It is a far cry from the widespread civic debate and engagement which characterised the 2014 referendum campaign. No wonder the polls are not shifting. 


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