Cyber-land

Last week I was banned from the “Vote NO to Scottish independence and protect the union” page on Facebook.  This is the Facebook page belonging to britishunity.org a pro-union organisation. Why was I there anyway you might ask – after all it’s a No Campaign page – surely I can’t expect to be tolerated.  I suppose I can’t really but I always like to try to understand the other point of view in any argument. It helps me to think about and articulate my own arguments. I also have a whole two hours a day to myself as my smallest child has started nursery and so was experimenting with different ways of filling the time which didn’t include housework! Following links I found myself at the No Campaign page.   There are pro-Independence comments on many of the Vote No pages… there are plenty actually but many of them say “Freeeeeedom” or “f*** the Union” or other such witty epithets, so I wondered what the response would be to more logical and developed debate. I was very careful not to break their rules which say:

“Comments that are deemed to be overtly bigoted in nature will be deleted and the offenders possibly subjected to a ban… If you notice a comment that is abusive in nature and you think the user responsible be banned you should contact the admin team immediately via a PM.”

Swearing and being abusive is not my style anyway and I don’t do bigotry, so I didn’t have to try very hard to be good. However it was not to be and after about a week of posting, asking questions and answering questions, I was banned.  I tweeted British Unity asking why I received the  ban and I got several  replies – apparently I was “making repetitive comments about how bad the Union is without explaining why or explaining why ‘separation’ would be beneficial. Dismissing what we say as “scaremongering” etc. We don’t put up with that sort of rubbish.”

They went on a few tweets later to say I was a trouble causer (You can follow it on @squidge142 if you really want to). So there you have it, my calm and reasonable debate was stifled because I used a word that the admins didn’t agree with. The definition of scaremongering is “a person who spreads frightening rumours”.  Actually, I was wrong to use that word – I perhaps should have called the poster a liar when they said that Armed Forces personnel on detachment abroad would not be allowed to vote in the Referendum and that we will all lose our British Citizenship on Independence. Then when he said it a second time, I shouldn’t have bothered to give the poster the link to the page where it explains the “service vote” or the link to the Border Agency page which shows the rules for British Citizenship.  My reply was along the lines of “There is plenty of important stuff to be talking about rather than scaremongering about losing citizenship and the armed forces not being able to vote”.  I certainly was not saying how bad the Union was – I don’t actually think it is that bad – I just really think that we can do better.

And so they deleted all my reasoned and sometimes humorous (well, I thought so anyway) responses to discussions I was having about 16/17 year olds getting the vote and about the economy and about Nicola Sturgeon’s new cabinet post. Then this week I found I was allowed back on the page.  I posted reasonable responses to their questions and answered everything I was asked in a non-confrontational way. I laughed with good humour at being Christened “Susan the Separatist” and I was very careful not to use the banned word “scaremongering”. Still, this morning I found myself banned and my posts removed leaving several somewhat strange, one sided conversation. I had been accused of posting opinion and passing it off as fact – what I said was “We can expect the government of an Independent Scotland to focus on developing and growing industry in a way that the Westminster Government doesn’t do”. Judge for yourself.

All well and good – it’s easy to dismiss these pages as of no consequence but I also posted on the official Better Together page. Surely they are above this sort of nonsense you might think – so did I.  They had shown a copy of a leaflet they are sending out about the BBC and  the corresponding article said “We received lawyers letters from BBC copyright officials who had been pressurised by Nationalists to complain to us”. I searched and couldn’t find anything supporting their suggestion of pressure being exerted and so I asked them what evidence they had to support this allegation. I posted my question on their  facebook page.  It was promptly deleted and I was banned from the page.  My comments remain on their web page and they have altered their article to read “We received lawyers letters from BBC copyright officials and we were happy to remove the BBC logo from our leaflets”. I suppose I should own up to having moderated and been an admin on one or two pages – I have only ever banned one person – this person was given admin rights to a page so that he could post a document. He then banned the page creator and cancelled the existing admins and took over the page for reasons which were never really clear.  After a bit of persuasion he reinstated two of us and we promptly took his privileges off him and prevented him from accessing the page again.

This is all very amusing but is it actually serious?  Well, why would these pages ban people who are not breaking their rules, who are polite and respectful in their posts and yet leave those which are unpleasant or ignorant? Why do that?  Could it be that they don’t like seeing sensible arguments being posted as it counters the view of pro-Independence supporters that they prefer to show?  I am not a conspiracy theorist and yet it looks a bit like the only pro-Independence posts that they want on their pages are the insulting and mindless ones – Is it too far a step to suggest they could be posting these themselves?

There are other places I post too – message boards and forums which are not specifically related to Independence but which do cover the subject.  Here also, I have found that the anti-independence responses to my posts are often those that tell me I am ‘stupid’, ‘ignorant’, ‘vapid’ or otherwise ‘mentally challenged’. There are even special arguments which are reserved for women who support Independence.  I have been accused of being so in love with my Nationalist husband that I have lost all sense of reason; of being romantically attached to an Independent Scotland.  I have been told not to worry my ‘pretty’ head about it and that I should just concentrate on my family and stop being such a ‘zealot’. When you add to the mix the fact that I am English you soon find the word ‘traitor’ and accusations that I am not true to my ‘English’ roots. This is an interesting viewpoint – particularly because it is my northern roots that lead me to be interested in politics, encouraged my socialist views and which, I believe, laid the foundations for my pro–independence stance.

For us ordinary folk, the constant slog to deal with the never ending insults and derision is wearing and can suck away your time and your days in a mire of negativity.  The whole week left me feeling a bit impotent and grumpy.  Enjoying a dram at the home of a friend, I picked up a copy of the BBC History magazine which he had lying around. In it was an article by Jane Purvis on the use of postcards during the campaign for women’s votes in the early part of the 20th Century.  I was struck by the similarities between the responses I have been getting and the postcards that I was reading about.

The Suffragettes were wholly unpopular amongst the political parties of the time – they were fighting for a freedom – the freedom to cast their vote, to be influential in the world of politics.  The postcards used as propaganda against them were wide and varied but many used derogatory sexual stereotypes to make fun of and ridicule the campaign.

Fortunately we have largely moved away from the extremely misogynistic views of women expressed in the postcards of the time and we don’t have to endure the terrible physical abuse that many Suffragettes were faced with – force feeding and imprisonment. However it is interesting to see how the same types of arguments are being wheeled out to ridicule the Independence campaign.

Many postcards ridiculed the leaders of the Women’s Suffrage campaign – Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst were fair game, portrayed as particularly masculine and ugly or as shrieking fishwives who had no feminine attributes.  The same happens with Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.  The number of times I see “wee fat Eck” mentioned in a thread is huge.  There are comments about his manner, his “girth”, his “smirk”; his “greed” and “avarice”, his “sneer” and his “smugness”. I have seen many comments about Ms Sturgeon which focus on her appearance in a negative way, her clothes, and her hair.  This seems to be a bit of an obsession on the Unionist Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

Postcards also suggested that Suffragettes behaved like a bunch of silly animals that followed their leader blindly without any critical thoughts – sheep and geese were popular in this type of portrayal and, lo and behold, we have the same point being made today.  There are many accusations that Nationalists blindly follow the SNP line without thought or criticism. We are often accused of banging the same drum over and over again – never mind that we keep being asked the same questions over and over again.  Although Christabel Pankhurst was an articulate and brilliant orator it suited those trying to discredit the Suffrage movement to portray the leaders as noise makers – the early representation of “yeah yeah yeah – whatever” although much, much more witty than we see today.

There are also postcards depicting women as troublemakers, needing to be silenced and to be shipped off to faraway places where they wouldn’t be trouble. Women were frequently depicted wearing a scold’s bridle or having their tongues cut out.  Jane Purvis shows an image of a woman in a crate waiting to be deported. These all suggest that women need to be silenced. A bit like the Vote no page did to me; a bit like the hackers did to the VASI page a few days ago.   These are all ways of silencing the opposition.  Another frequently seen unionist argument is that those who are pro-independence should be rounded up and sent to somewhere unpleasant which  is usually some dictator state with the adage that “see what real oppression looks like” or a deserted island where we can have our independent country and “see how they get on then!”

Then there is the absurdity argument. To many in the early years of the 20th Century it was absurd to even think about women MPs. Jane Purvis shows examples of postcards which show women knitting in parliament, feeding their babies and putting the teapot next to the mace.  Another example shows a future meeting of cabinet ministers in 1978 – all sitting around in their hats and sipping tea, thus implying that women couldn’t function outside the home and were unable to understand the wider implications of politics. These too have parallels with today’s Independence debate.  Billy Connolly called the Scottish Parliament “a wee pretendy parliament”. There were many comments about Scotland being too wee, too stupid, and too poor to participate on a world stage as an Independent nation and whilst these seem to have disappeared from the mouths of senior politicians, they still persist in the world of online “debate”.  Many unionists on Facebook and Twitter have moved on to comment on individuals  – intellectually challenged is the usual accusation – stupid, ignorant and unable to grasp the evidence that shows that Independence won’t work –  that it is absurd to suggest that it might.

Why is this interesting? Well for us ordinary people who are pro-independence – slogging it out over the internet  in our bedrooms, studies or using wireless in Starbucks on a quiet afternoon, it can be a bit exhausting be subjected to the derogatory comments and ridicule which forms the largest part of the Unionist argument. We can sometimes wonder if we are actually doing any good, actually making any difference and wonder whether it is as much use as banging your head off a brick wall.  It is therefore, good to know that this is nothing different – nothing new.

We need to remember that Facebook, Twitter and discussion forums are the modern equivalent of the postcard. It is useful to understand that the noise is just that – noise and bluster.  We know that the anti-Suffrage postcards were not true in their presentation of the women’s movement and that they were used as propaganda to poke fun at and ridicule when there was a lack of any sensible argument that withholding votes for women was the right thing to do. There is a lack of credible, positive arguments for the union and that is why we are facing the same sort of ridicule as the Suffragettes did.

When submerged in the dregs of the Unionist arguments we can feel better to know that it isn’t just us.  It helps to know that other radical and necessary changes have faced the same arguments and attacks and yet succeeded. It is fear of change, fear of the unknown that leads to the responses we see – not the paucity of our arguments.  We know that the Suffragettes used postcards to their own advantage, Norman Watson, in his paper, Text and Imagery in Suffragette Propaganda says “Women’s Suffrage organisations harnessed the propaganda value of picture postcards as a visual corrective to what they saw as a misleading image of their campaign orchestrated by anti-Suffrage opponents movement”.  If we are to minimise the effect of the anti-independence scaremongering (and I use that word deliberately) and nonsense, we need to continue to say what we believe, often and logically, without resorting to name calling and turning ourselves into pro-Independence stereotypes.  The more we do that, the more we use our own “visual corrective” on Facebook, Twitter and internet forums; the more we present the evidence patiently, logically and respectfully, the more we will reduce the effectiveness of the Unionist arguments.

That would be “Susan the Separatist” signing off!

Sue Lyons
Political Blogger 

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About Sue Lyons

Sue Lyons is a 48 year old English mother, wife, carer and generally opinionated person. She lives happily in the Highlands of Scotland married to John – a self confessed rabid scottish nationalist with a massive ginger beard. A mother to five children, she is also a trained Breast Feeding Peer Supporter.

There are 7 comments

  1. Melanie McKellar

    Nice report Sue! Funny thing is I was nosing about on the No page today and saw a disjointed conversation in which a poster replied to your comment ….which was no longer there! It looked very strange! You just have to laugh it off though, you will never change (many of) the people’s minds on the NO pages just like servile ‘Unionists’ will never change (many of) the people’s minds on the YES pages HOWEVER for the undecided it is important to give an argument against scaremongering.

  2. Doug Daniel

    Good post, Sue. It’s all about trying to create a negative narrative of independence being the preserve of dim-witted, reactionary imbeciles and presenting this to undecided voters as if to say “this is what independence voters look like – do you really want to be one of them?” This is the whole point of the “Cybernat” tag. When the very idea of an independence referendum seemed like nothing more than wishful thinking, it was enough to merely paint pro-indy people as kilt-wearing, shortbread-eating, Braveheart-watching simpletons, stuck in the 1600s; but as it has come closer to reality, it has become necessary to tar us with an altogether darker brush, hence the birth of the Cybernat terminology, and all the aggressive, attacking overtones that go with it. Of course, it goes hand-in-hand with the bizarre idea of the innocent, defenceless unionist.

    That the reality is actually, if anything, the complete reverse – and yet the Cybernat façade has been swallowed wholesale by those who are meant to be scrutinising the two sides of the debate for us – speaks volumes for the level of imbalance in this debate, and does little to give you confidence in the abilities of our mediafolk to seek the truth and not be distracted by spurious nit-picking and downright lies. Hence why we need spaces such as National Collective to correct the imbalance.

    There was a perfect example tonight on Scotland Tonight, with the Tory activist Mark Brown making completely baseless insinuations about possible trouble at the March For Independence on Saturday. His comments added absolutely no substance to what was being discussed and were only ever going to serve to wind up independence supporters. I tweeted him asking him to try and “keep it out of the gutter” and many others tweeted at him too, and one reply to my tweet likened him to a 1930s Nazi provocateur. As soon as I read it I knew he would retweet it and claim it to be typical of “Cybernats”. True to form, when the boy got home, he retweeted a bunch of tweets he’d been sent, to show the world what all the nasty Twitter people were saying to him. He didn’t bother retweeting my one though, presumably because it wasn’t Cybernatty enough for him (not sure why yours was retweeted as anyone watching the programme could see he was indeed inarticulate and fumbling – he was about one second away from Rona McDougall having to rescue him at one point).

    And this is exactly what has happened to you on Facebook. Reasoned, articulate arguments don’t fit their caricature of the swivel-eyed, slack-jawed Cybernat, so they just delete them. Meanwhile, all the abusive sorts are given free reign to paint a bad picture of us nationalists, so they can show the media “oh look at all the abuse we get from those nasty Cybernats!” Never a peep about the multitude of unionists on Twitter etc calling the SNP the Scottish Nazi Party, comparing Salmond to every dictator under the sun, and accusing the independence movement of being based purely on anti-English sentiment and being racist in general (most bemusing given the side of the debate members of the BNP fall on…)

    In the end though, I think they’ll prove to be shooting themselves in the foot. I truly believe people are seeing through this guff, which is part of the genius behind having a two-year run up to the referendum, because this sort of negativity simply cannot be maintained for that long without glaring holes in the logic becoming plain for all to see. Witness the US presidential campaign, where people thought Romney had a chance at first, but he’s been exposed as the nitwit he is as his campaign has gone on. Better Together don’t have a leg to stand on, they don’t have a single positive argument for the union amongst them, and people will see that as we approach the referendum. As long as those of us seeking a better future for Scotland keep our heads and rise above it (most of the time!), we’ll reach our goal in 2014.

    After all, you’ve highlighted that the same thing happened to the Suffragettes, and we all know how that one ended!

  3. Neil Campbell

    The Vote No page is shocking, and it is now getting a bad name all over the internet. I still believe that Scotland is better in the Union.My views are centre-left(Labour Party)and I was kicked off for disagreeing about the glories of the British Empire and have the temerity to believe that perhaps the Iraqi war was not justified and that the Argentinians don’t necessarily need a good “seeing to” over the Falklands.I was never inpolite or rude at any time.

  4. Andrew Smith

    The problem of Twitter etc is that every single cause has the ability to attract idiots and extremely rude ones at that. The internet is the perfect forum for rude idiots. Of course the pro union side has more than enough of its own rude idiots, but at the moment there is a majority support for the union and they hardly damage their cause.

    To be honest I’m not sure how much the ‘cyber-nat’ label actually damages our side, but I don’t see it benefiting us either. I think Doug is totally correct in outlining the impact. I don’t think undecided people will have their opinions shaped by Twitter in any great number, but every time the debate is focused on whinging unionist politicians/ journalists and the ‘cyber-nat army’ is yet another time when the important debate is being missed.

  5. George Mcgrory

    seems to be a complaint i’ve heard from almost everyone who posts anything pro-independence , i’ve also had a fair bit of hate mail , from pro unionists , tried to complain & pass on the messages to facebook but because they send the message then ban and block me , i can’t reply or even forward the messages to the facebook admin to deal with ! i don’t actually mind the insults , i don’t see any resemblance between myself and jimmy savile anyway ! ;-)

  6. Weegible

    Brilliant. My antidote to cut-off conversations is to take a capture of the page. I may make a scrap-book of derisory Unionist comments one day…. when I have too much time on my hands ;)

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