Fascism is a political ideology that is most obviously associated with the Nazi party, but which was also adopted in Italy under Mussolini. Fascism is a complex concept but some of its main elements are: the idea that nation and race are more important than an individual, severe economic and social regimentation and suppression of opposition.
In my investigation of whether social media is making us fascist I want to look mostly at the last of those factors, suppression of opposition. I also want to consider this in two parts. Firstly, are we becoming less tolerant of people with opinions different to our own? And secondly, does the way in which people with unpopular opinions are ostracised support the growth of extremist ideas.
Okay then, to start.
I read an article a while back which said that on social media all we do is surround ourselves with people who broadly hold the same opinions and values as we do. That means that our social personas are not only about making outward connections, but about using other people to validate our own opinions.
Was the article fair in what it said? In my case, mostly yeah. I remember that during the build up to the Brexit referendum 95% of my friends were happily posting Independent articles and whatever Owen Jones had written that day. It was all very self-congratulatory and high-horsey (and premature as it turns out).
I had one friend who was adamantly Leave and although he was a bit of a wind up merchant, everything he said brought a barrage of opposition. That’s not so unusual, but what got me was that people weren’t prepared to address his arguments based on their relative merit (at least not until he had repeated them 2 or 3 times), they simply seemed appalled that anyone could want to leave the EU.
Why was it so shocking? Because leavers are racist bigots obviously. Everyone knew that. And who were these weird backward, British empire, rule Britannia craving Leavers? I never saw, them they were a bit of a myth. And whenever they did pop up, on Question Time or a prison line up, they were dismissed as idiots. They were racists and as we all know, racists don’t deserve an opinion.
But isn’t that hypocritical? Isn’t liberalism about tolerance? About everyone being entitled to their own view? It’s supposed to be. But in a society where people who aren’t with the zeitgeist have their right to a voice continually squashed, their intelligence and their character belittled, is that liberalism? Or is that mob rule, fascism in sheep’s clothing?
This leads onto the second point. If people who don’t happen to agree with X or Y or the EU, are continually overlooked, what is the end result? Over in England we laughed at the idea that Donald Trump could become President of the United States right up until the moment he did. Then we assumed he’d get impeached so we turned the banter up to 10 and wrote articles about his wife being subbed in for a body double.
It’s like Brexit, no one saw it coming until it did. In the recent German elections, a far right MP won a seat for the first time in 50 years, did they see it coming? When a British Asian boy becomes a mass murderer he is brainwashed, it’s got nothing to do with us. We sit pretty in Ivory Towers.
But the danger is that, as we all sit in our living rooms, something on TV, scrolling through memes on our phones, if all we do is continue to tell ourselves how right we are, we lose sight that some people don’t think the same way. And if our response to their opinions is to mock and silence them, what are they going to do? The signs of danger are there and have been for a while, but are we just all too obsessed with our liberalism to realise?