Soutiam Goodarzi is a Conservative activist and Sixth Form college student.
The Conservative Party is nothing better than terrible where social media is concerned. But, to be honest, so is Labour. Both owe this to cheapened political rhetoric—debates which are short on substance, but long on outrage. This shift has been swift, establishing the superiority of remarks over facts among a new generation.
A Tory grows thick skin from the false accusations of Nazism, however it is legitimate and respectable debate which shapes deeper political character. Real debate has unfortunately disappeared as all arguments are reduced to opposing sides labelling each other “traitors”, “fascists”, “racists”, or “idiots”. Whilst activists can become accustomed to hateful words, we’re depriving our future politicians of legitimate scrutiny of ideas. Cheap insults aren’t the pull factor for political activism, robust policies are.
The Conservative Party is incompetent online. Instead of being the party of common sense and sanity, it has decided to jump on the bandwagon, focussing on painting the opposition as evil with accusations of “-isms” and “-phobias”, rather than allowing them to drown in their own mistakes and failures. I’m sorry to disappoint CCHQ, but no-one who is okay with Corbyn’s friendship with anti-semitic terrorists is going to vote Conservative because he insulted Theresa May. Leave the accusations to the Left; it suits them far better.
Online activism has to be short and sharp. It has to make the youth think you’ve “owned” your opponent, whilst including enough factual information to convince the sceptics that you’re right. Those who are flexible will shift their opinion. Those who are not will be pile up on you regardless of the concessions you make, but at least when given a choice between sensible politics and a chorus of abuse, the average person will side with you. By disassociating yourself from aggressive and substance-free politics, members are also less likely to make unsavoury comments picked up on by the media in years to come.
A good example would be some of the tweets posted by Andrew Scheer, the Leader of the Canadian Conservatives. He knows how to tweet. He takes a policy, like the carbon tax, says briefly why it’s not a good idea, and then attempts to “own” Justin Trudeau. It works. His tweets certainly are far less ratio’d than May’s, and he manages to touch upon issues ordinary people care about without fear of being labelled an “-ist” for it. Topics like illegal immigration and the economy are high among his priorities.
Now of course, Scheer shares one tiny little advantage with Corbyn. He’s the leader of the opposition, and therefore doesn’t have to face scrutiny for the lived consequences of his policies. The Conservatives could influence this by concentrating on ensuring that their record is great, however they’ve stolen so many of Corbyn’s ideas it’s impossible for them to fault his policies and get their own to work.
Take the NHS plan which the Party recently flooded its social media channels with: this is the same party who used to say higher public service spending is not possible due to the deficit. It’s necessary to ensure that the policies you’re now advocating for don’t contradict valid arguments you used to make against them. If, in the past, you were suggesting that the country’s deficit is far too high for extra public service spending, and implying that the NHS needs to manage its finances better, then parroting the Labour line now will not be effective. People really hate hypocrisy, and they simply won’t believe you anymore, rendering your campaigns useless.
Another problem CCHQ, and May herself, has is that desperate attempts to blame the Opposition for their own failures make them look foolish. For example, the Conservative Party shared a video of May blaming Corbyn for her lost vote, accusing him of putting party before country. There is no denying that he is, but all oppositions attempt to damage an unstable government. The Prime Minister didn’t lose the vote because of Corbyn, she lost it because she blew her own majority and is now forced to beg the Opposition for sympathy.
People dislike weakness in politicians, and the adversarial “everything is Corbyn’s fault” attitude drives away support. The public are looking for success. If May cannot convince them that the Conservatives are making the best of a bad situation, and constantly bases her campaign on trial and error, potential supporters won’t waste their time on her party.
To conclude, here are six guidelines on how to win on social media:
- Avoid accusing the opposition of discrimination— if discrimination has occurred, leave it for journalists to deal with, and simultaneously highlight the actions that the Conservatives have taken to stop abuse;
- Explain the ideological backing to your policies, and open up discussion on those policies;
- Don’t be afraid of funny posts, long as they have some factual backing to them and aren’t ad hominem;
- Don’t be afraid of accusations flung by opponents —people want political parties to discuss sensitive topics like the criminalisation of verbal “hate crimes”, or immigration, regardless of how many times David Lammy might complain;
- The Party should be banned from taking offence — Conservatives are stronger than whining about being called stupid. Let the media deal with it.
- Avoid U-turns.
In short, control the narrative, don’t be controlled by it.