#CameronMustGo: Step away from Twitter and close down your laptop — a hashtag will not win the next General Election

We're all becoming too eager to equate Twitter campaigns with actual democratic will

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The Independent Online

Has David Cameron gone yet? Resigned, I mean. Oh he hasn’t? I ask because I had assumed that a Twitter campaign orchestrated by people who would never vote for him anyway might just have persuaded him that his time was up.

Ok so I lie. But seriously: #CameronMustGo has been tweeted more than 341,000 times and has now been trending on Twitter for over a week. As far an online activism goes, this is highly impressive.

And yet like a rugged seafarer refusing to give up on the wreckage of his shipwrecked vessel, Cameron clings on, with no sight as yet of the press corps gathered outside Downing Street for the heartfelt resignation speech.

So what happened? Why is Cameron still hanging around like a nasty autumnal cold despite the opprobrium heaped on him by the great and good of Twitter?

Well despite #CameronMustGo being big on Twittter, things carry on as before because voters still throw out Prime Ministers by turning up and voting them out on polling day. For all of the self-congratulatory sound and fury of the #CameronMustGo hashtag campaign, the Twitterati hasn’t yet managed to bypass that. Going viral may be "a thing" to people who sit at a desk dreaming up 140 letter witticisms all day, but to everyone else it’s what they hope doesn’t happen to the latest winter bug.

In other words, the election next May will not be won or lost on Twitter. Shocking I know.

Even more galling is the fact that, however many memes get tweeted with Iain Duncan Smith’s head superimposed on a swastika, and however much the lone voice who supports the bedroom tax gets bombarded with death threats, the public must still, when it comes to the pinch, be won over by better arguments - hashtags and online back-slapping just won’t cut it.

 

Some are evidently convinced otherwise, though, if the outrage flooding my own timeline is anything to go by, which surely once again demonstrates that the Twitter experience is not unlike that of the below the line comment spaces on newspaper websites. Ostensibly democratic, like most other forms of "direct democracy" Twitter is in practice dominated by the most boorish or "alpha" personalities who, backed up by a larger aggressive and unthinking mass, stand ready to shout down any opposition or lone non-conformist voice on behalf of ‘the cause’.

Which is why Ed Miliband’s so-called "35 per cent strategy" is oddly appropriate for our solipsistic social media age. Activists long ago abandoned the quaint notion of persuading a majority of the public that their ideas are best for the country, and prefer instead to confer only with the fellow self-righteous who already think and feel – feeling being most important here – just as they do. In fact, open up your laptop and tap out a verbal challenge to today’s Twittter royalty and they probably won’t even bother trying to win you over at all; they will simply ask, in capitals of course: "HOW DARE YOU?!?!?! #CameronMustGo."

Social media is the enemy of nuance and political activists despise compromise. The splintering of the political system into smaller and smaller fragments is at least partly related to the fact that shrill and self-righteous certainty suits the internet age better than calm and reasoned argument. We are right and you are wrong. If the BBC doesn’t report what I say then it’s a sign of unforgiveable and sinister bias. My political party must embrace the full shopping list of my views or I’m taking my vote elsewhere. #CameronMustGo because me and my activist buddies say so.

Welcome to the brave new world of hashtags and online mob rule. The mistake is to equate this shrill and often deafening white noise with democratic will. Step away from Tweetdeck, close down your laptop and believe it or not everything carries on just as it was before. #CameronMustGo is the hashtag that didn’t shake Cameron. If we’re honest it didn’t really do anything, did it?

Against this backdrop of shrill Twitter outrage and "10 thousand dead from the Bedroom Tax" memes (#DrEoinClarke), the sight of David Cameron in Number 10 Downing Street this morning is strangely reassuring, even though nothing will stop me from voting to throw him out at the next election.

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