This morning I read the news that the MOD are setting up a new special force to target social media –
“The brigade will be responsible for what is described as non-lethal warfare. Both the Israeli and US army already engage heavily in psychological operations.
Against a background of 24-hour news, smartphones and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the force will attempt to control the narrative.”
Having just spent a month avoiding social media, particularly instagram, twitter and facebook, I found the last line in that quote rather chilling. In a world where communications technologies are integrated into every aspect of ordinary lives, there is now a special force attempting to control the narrative of your experience in order to manipulate the way in which you (we) engage with the various forms of conflict that the British military are involved in.
One of the main motivating factors in my sabbatical was the need to withdraw from the chatter, to take my own thoughts and live with them for a while, without the commentary. I’ve not exactly hermitted myself, I have continued to read a variety of news sources daily and interact over email, facetime and skype with far-flung friends.
But the need to distance my thoughts from the constant opinioning and sharing was great. There was a desire also to become quiet and observe the world from a distance, to avoid the overarching knee-jerkery that is twitter and the barrage of clickbait that dominates much of the facebook newsfeed.
I missed instagram the most. It is possibly the least opinion driven form of social media I use – aside from liking the pictures posted or occasionally commenting on the general loveliness of the images, there is little else there. I avoid the general re-sharing and chain mail elements and have few instagram accounts that I follow that are not people I personally know. It is a personal resource that I will probably stick with.
I did not miss twitter at all, but felt much calmer that I was able to read news articles and check differing sources for balanced opinion, without having that sense that I was either missing out on some story that was deep in the bowels of the interweb, or caught in a barrage of outraged tweeting whenever anybody said anything anybody else did not agree with. I shall be mostly avoiding twitter from now on and will not be putting it back on my phone.
My relationship with facebook is more complicated. I have a large and far-flung family and a considerable number of good friends who are also a long way from London and there is something very reassuring about the daily check-in, if only to note who has posted and to keep an eye if anyone is missing and send them a personal message to make sure they are ok. That is the part of facebook I genuinely enjoy – it does maintain connection for someone as solitary as myself, and allow those who matter to keep each other in the loop. Babies have been born and blogs have been posted and friends have been outraged by the news or heartened by the cute animals and all is well, and that is great.
Of course I have not missed the endless stream of clickbait linkage and outraged commentary too much, and I am not sure I will be on facebook as often as I used to be, but I will still check in to make sure everyone I know and love is still ok or, if not ok, know about it in time to offer my helping hand or shoulder to cry on.
Social media is social, and I love it for that.
So what of this new scary military task force? Meh. I guess. It’s interesting and I wonder if the ponderings I do over it will make their way into the story I am working on at the moment. It is an interesting angle to say the least. I’m not particularly surprised, propaganda is most effective when communicated in the vernacular, so it makes sense from a purely rational perspective.
But perhaps that is the point. Is it any different than the EDL or Britain First convincing people to repost their hate speech?
As ever, I leave you with unanswered and perhaps unanswerable questions. I certainly don’t have answers at the moment. Time will tell. I will see you all on my newsfeed.