The Blog

Unfriending Tories on Facebook Is Not the Answer

If we take one thing away from Labour's defeat it should be a determination to communicate better. To step outside our lovely, lefty, social media bubbles and find a way to talk to people we don't agree with.

"Devastating result, if you're one of those people who voted Tory or UKIP please just unfriend me on here." This is one of many statuses that greeted me on Facebook this morning. Left-wing voters upset about the Tory majority and publicly washing their hands of the people who were responsible. Their anger is understandable, especially after a bitterly fought election and only 2 hours sleep. What is less understandable is their desire to cut off contact with the people who disagree with them. To barricade themselves into the electronic echo chamber, safe from all the Tories and UKIPers.

The shock over Labour's defeat and the Liberal Democrats annihilation is palpable but should we really be shocked? In the aftermath of last night's exit poll Labour politicians scrambled to discredit it, citing anecdotal evidence that people were still going to vote for them. Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls appeared on the BBC to explain that Labour activists has met with a positive reception in their constituencies. People had shaken their hands and turned out in record numbers, a reaction that was mimicked on Twitter and Facebook. My lefty-liberal timelines on both platforms were filled with people campaigning for Labour, sharing anti-Tory links and claiming that we were going to take the government back off Cameron. Sadly when faced with an exit-poll that predicted at least 306 Tory seats (and as it turns out underestimated Tory support) I had to accept that my friends were in the minority.

The reason that Labour's defeat came as such a shock to most Labour supporters is that so much campaigning has been conducted on social media, and Facebook tells us exactly what we want to hear. New research has found that people only click the links they agree with on Facebook (oh really?!?) and while most people have friends with a broad range of political opinions they only like posts by those they agree with. Thanks to Facebook's highly effective, if slightly disingenuous, algorithm this means that we start to only see content we have already expressed a preference for. If you're consistently liked links to Caitlin Moran calling David Cameron a camp gammon robot and disliked links to the Nigel Farage fanclub you're going to end up seeing a lot of pro-Labour stuff. The mistake most of us make is assuming that our Facebook feed reflects the wider world, rather than our own political prejudices.

Politics is polarizing and an effective campaign is one that paints the other side as hideous monsters, but many left-wing voters are in danger of believe their own propaganda. The people who voted David Cameron back into Downing Street are not monsters. Well... not all of them. They are normal people, some of whom examined all the parties manifestos, looked at their track record on the economy, immigration, etc and made an informed decision. Some of them voted Tory because their family always voted Tory. Some voted out of fear, some out of appreciation for what the Tories have already accomplished, some because they just like their local candidate. They voted for all the reasons people vote Labour and it's a disingenuous, dangerous strategy to paint all Tory voters as monsters, motivated by greed and bigotry. It also makes it more difficult to change their minds.

In the build up to the election I did see a few pro-Tory posts, from family members, partners of friends, a few colleagues, a couple of good friends, people I interact with too much for Facebook to completely hide them from me. And despite living in a delirious montage of anti-Tory sentiment I was completely unequipped to communicate with them. Myth-busting anti-Labour propaganda, statistics, appealing to their better natures, threatening to withhold grandchildren, it didn't matter how calmly or emotively I approached the issue: they were as likely to vote Labour as I was to vote Tory. Now when people dismiss Tory voters as selfish, greedy, social climbers I can't agree with them, because I know these people and I know that I failed to reach them. If we take one thing away from Labour's defeat it should be a determination to communicate better. To step outside our lovely, lefty, social media bubbles and find a way to talk to people we don't agree with.

This morning I have one message for Tory voters: please don't unfriend me on Facebook, let's have a chat instead.