Sunday 8 June 2014

Think before you share

I tend to leave politics out of my social media activities. However, some extremist groups get me seriously worried, and especially when they are using emotional manipulation and innocence to further their own aims.

I've been relieved in the last couple of days to see a gradual increase in links to articles highlighting what is really behind the group Britain First, and especially to their huge surge of 'likes' on Facebook. I won't bother to explain the situation here: at least three other sites have already saved me the trouble. Please take a few minutes to read them and understand.

Liverpool Echo

Costa Connected

Another Angry Voice

Now, while I strongly disagree with what Britain First stands for, I am (unlike them) not saying that you do not have the right to your own opinions. If their ethics and policies align with your own, liking and sharing their posts is entirely your right. (If you're on my Facebook friends lists, you'd soon be deleted, but that's another story.) As the writer of the Costa Connected article sensibly puts it:

Please do not misunderstand me, everyone’s political views are their own, and I enjoy friendship and dialogue with many people whose opinions on many matters I am fundamentally opposed to, or have little interest in. Unlike Britain First I embrace and celebrate diversity and difference, and intelligent discussion of different points of view – heaven knows the world is in a mess right now and I have no grand opinions on the best way to fix it, talking about ideas with people whose ideas challenge and push at your own is a good way of developing solutions.

I am writing this while being fortunate enough to be spending a break in a beautiful part of Spain (at a wonderful health resort called Obsidian). I have so far met a huge variety of people, all colours, several nationalities (Polish, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, Australian to name but a few) and, I would imagine, many faiths, backgrounds and belief systems. The diversity of this place is one of things that makes it joyful for me. We all learn from each other.


Some of the posts that Britain First have been using for manipulative purposes ("if you don't like this post it means you don't appreciate what our war heroes did for us") are, in themselves, perfectly reasonable and laudable sentiments. Take, for instance, yesterday's news about the splendid war veteran who basically did a bunk from his care home and travelled to France alone, and safely, at attend the D-day celebrations in France. Britain First has published a photograph of Bernard Jordan, urging you to 'like' and show your respect.

Now, I'd fully agree that this excellent old boy deserves appreciation and publicity for all sorts of reasons. However, gleaning 'likes' for a political group that advocates the kind of Nazi-style cleansing and fascist beliefs that Bernard Jordan and millions of others went to war to defeat somehow doesn't make a lot of sense.

Having read the articles above, you may well decide that you want nothing to do with Britain First (or any similar organisations). If so, here are the geeky, practical suggestions.

Want to share these photos anyway?  Just download them from Facebook. Right-click on the image you want to save, choose Save Image As, and drop it into somewhere on your own computer that you'll find it again. Then add it to a post of your own in the normal way. Whether it's a picture of a wandering war veteran, a poppy for Remembrance, one of the Royals, our beautiful countryside or whatever: you can share these images to your heart's content without promoting the policies of the original poster. Like this.

Want to block all postings from Britain First? When you next see a posting, click on the drop-down arrow top right (of the posting, that is, not of the whole screen); there's an option to 'block Britain First'. (You can do this with any page, group or individual who really annoys you for whatever reason!)


As I said earlier, this is not about removing freedom of choice - quite the reverse. It's about being aware of what underlies this use of social media. Again quoting the Costa Connected article:

On these pages we frequently take the time out to celebrate the genuinely positive things which come from social media, such as the force for good that was Stephen Sutton and the unanticipated impact of the no-make-up-selfie movement. Every now and then, however, we have to comment on the darker side, the way that the democratisation of publishing and communication is exploited in the service of what can only be described as evil.

Facebook (together with other social media) is powerful. It's fun, it's informative, it's useful, it's entertaining, it makes communication easy between friends, and it can be a great force for good. But any powerful force can operate for good or ill, and in the world of the easy click-and-share, the darker side can spread through innocence and ignorance far faster than through activism.