The Tories won the meme war
The Tories won the meme war
Despite Labour’s election defeat in the UK headlines indicated that, as in 2017, they dominated the youth vote.
One variable stands out when grouping the electorate. How they consume campaign propaganda and information. Young voters spend more time online than any other age bracket. People aged 16-24 are twice as likely as the rest of the population to be online for 7+ hours a day. If the internet is Labour’s dominant territory, will the discourse shifting from the pub and The S*n to Facebook and Twitter mean the Tories end up on the back foot?
As the oldest political party in the world, the Conservative Party are guaranteed to adapt. The evolution’s already begun.
Outsourcing your dirty work.
CTF is a corporation that specialises in running expansive disinformation networks for high-paying clients that in the past have included large polluters, anti-cycling groups and the Saudi Arabia state. The Tories selected Sean Topham and Ben Guerin from the company to lead the battle online following 2017’s poor digital showing. They were tasked with helping the party connect with an audience that had no interest in the prior election.
So, what was the tactic?
Disingenuous tricks were getting called out repeatedly when December began.
The use of public funds for political campaigning. An ex-Tory minister posing as a made-up campaign ‘Parent’s Choice’ on Facebook ads. Full Fact disputing 88% of claims in Tory-run online ads. The Tories Twitter page posing as an independent fact-checker.
Zuckerberg has, so far, resisted calls to clamp down on spreading disinformation, but he’ll act in the future. Recently, Twitter bowed to the pressure and banned political advertising. Boomers are seven times more likely to share fake news stories on Facebook as under-30s. As we come to terms with the web, the free-for-all ceases. Increasingly, mythmaking is recognised online.
It holds, therefore, that the blatant trickery employed isn’t a sustainable tactic.
Aside, they also took the first steps in an irreversible change for campaigning. The unprecedented production of viral material managed to garner the attention without the criticism.
Billionaires and corporate interests already run adverts and their social media platforms.
People are independently active and engaged in the communities within these platforms though. Groups the size of villages interact over niches they feel passionately about. In these non-corporatized groups, they’re potentially free from the grasp Murdoch and co have on the media.
They’re one of the remaining places on or offline where people aren’t pressured into buying anything and a profit-incentive rarely dampens the experience.
Peep Show Posting – Project Zeus is one such community on Facebook. There’s little money to be made from Channel 4’s comedy show any more, but the group is consistently filled with innocent innovation and hilarity. The home-made application of obscure quotes to current events feels communal, organic and vibrant to me and thousands of others, despite the show finishing years ago.
To people who need wealth tax breaks, these spheres aren’t rare exemptions from corporate hegemony, they’re untapped markets. The Tories were one of the first to pounce.
Labour’s online presence was unmatched in Britain until now.
Parties left of the Conservatives rely on decentralised grassroots sources to have their messages echoed. Sources such as Casetteboy and countless meme groups project Labour’s messages independently of the party mechanism.
Equivalents for the Conservatives exist but the comparatively small size of their active online base means it offers no competition.
And so, the party funded by Microsoft, Selfridges and other powerhouses adapted the way it knows best. When energy can’t propel you, turn to money. That money is buying them the best marketing available.
They’ve been winning elections since 1802, something like technology won’t slow them down now.
How did CTF’s Sean Topham and Ben Guerin do it?
In December official sources shared edited pictures and videos formatting everything from Peep Show to Pokémon to Lo-Fi. Whilst all parties produced predictable drivel focused on their talking points, no one else was also producing content that could’ve been made by someone wearing pyjamas at home.
That’s not a criticism.
On Instagram Labour’s official follower count is predictably the bigger of the two, having always lead. Conservative posts were three times more likely to be engaged with though. with though.
The Conservative’s YouTube channel got more subscribers after its 3-minute Boris/Love Actually mashup than Labour got in the entire fortnight leading preceding the election.
Labour’s channel got 100,000 views in the week leading to the election. The Tories count was 7 million! Not bad for a party whose strongest age bracket was 75+.
(Stats from Social Blade)
Labour’s campaign would’ve had no chance of pulling off such playful tactics. Whilst it suited Johnson’s bumbling persona, Corbyn is lambasted for walking into remembrance the wrong way. The Tory’s media means he could never get away with it.
So, Labour remains reliant on a broad active base. That organic foundation is now being matched by its classic foe. If right-wing communities used to be outgunned online, Conservatives are retaliating with their go-to remedy of corporate collaboration.
Why’s it notable that the right’s achieved a substantial online presence?
If time had gone on without capital making these inroads, generations might have grown up without corporations infiltrating so much of what they consume.
Capital making these media these inroads threatens one of the last bastions of safety from corporate propaganda. Electorally moving capitalism slightly left became feasible for a few years, but the corporate propaganda hegemony has now reasserted itself and the hard-right politics that it serves.
Offline, print media already favours the ‘business-friendly’ parties and the effectiveness of this has helped keep those parties in power through almost all of Britain’s parliamentary history. (Britain has had four decades straight of neoliberal rule).
Briefly, the internet threatened to wobble this status quo.
Capital, ever-mercurial, has rapidly adapted to upload its tentacles to a space that threatened to sever ties with its shackle.
The Tory’s official channels are measurable but to what extent will these interests camouflage and integrate with passionate, active communities. How long ago did it begin?
There are comments under the material along the lines of “I love the intern making this stuff”. CTF’s Sean and Ben will be happy not to get the praise. Capital is at its most effective when it’s developed a human face.
If Mark Corrigan’s involved, I can almost forget the class war being waged.
The tactic is undeniably working.
The story goes that as one grows up, a voter becomes increasingly likely to become a Tory.
The average voter switch ‘switching’ age from Labour to Tory is now 39. In 2017’s election it was 47. Pushing down the age the electorate join you by 8 years is an astounding result for such a short space of time.
This decrease in average crossover age shows the Tories are doing something right to combat the youthquake. It changed 317 seats into a dominant 365.
The unexpected is still expected as technology and capital further adapts. 2019 marks the year business firmly is back on the front foot.