12 October 2008

Blogging and the SNP

(Or, "The Rise of the CyberNats!")

One of the things to come out of Kez Dugdale's decision to relinquish the Soapbox (and also, oddly, out of a post on here about Truro & Falmouth - and Calum Cashley's right, my tastes are strange and that's the way I like them) is a consideration of the presence of SNP members on the internet. And specifically, the large presence of SNP members online. Did we force Kezia out? Are we bad for the blogosphere? Why are there so many of us?

Let me think about the last one first.

It's been suggested that so many SNP members have turned to bloggery as the MSM has largely been hostile to the SNP and independence. Perhaps it's that: the emergence of the blogosphere has allowed for more opinions to be seen more often. And if you don't like the comment and analysis the papers give you, why not make your own?

Also, there's a massive school of thought that because the SNP were an Opposition party, and by definition are anti-Establishment, then a medium such as a blog is perfect for supporters.

But these two facts overlook something: yes, the media has traditionally been hostile (with the exception of the Scottish Sun in 1992) to the SNP, and yes, the SNP were in Opposition until last year, but why was the take-off point for the majority of SNP blogs (especially some of the most notable) as late as Autumn 2006? Why did it take so long? Is it a product of the momentum that the party was gaining, that more activists had their tails up, and were willing to take to their keyboards? And why is the number of SNP blogs still heading in an upward direction? Is it just because of the 'honeymoon' period? The media is less hostile to the Party now (but mainly because it dislikes Labour more than it dislikes us) and we are in Government, but still SNP activists are blogging. So it has to be more than just media hostility and opposition.

And what of the suggestion that blogging is co-ordinated, controlled by HQ? Well, I can say right now that I've never had to deal with any co-ordination or control and would make clear to anyone who tried to apply it that they could shove it up their arse.

And yet...

Consider the Glasgow SNP bloggers: Tartan Hero, IndyGal, Jennifer Dunn, BellgroveBelle, to name but four. One started, it inspired someone else, who inspired another, and so on. This also works for the Edinburgh Labour bloggers, all of whom started at largely the same time. And on both sides, they inspired others, who saw a possible way of getting their own message across. It's not that they got organised, it's not that a decision was taken for these people to become bloggers. One started, and the rest followed suit, one after the other. This is Web 2.0 in action: even the basic act of bloggery has the potential to go viral in the right conditions. And you can look at how different those blogs are now to see that there is no co-ordination: the bloggers themselves are in control, posting their perspectives on their issues.

You do get some attempts at organisation, though: chiefly on an internet poll where a local party activist may send an e-mail to colleagues asking people to vote in it. That's not unique to the SNP though, and it's organised at a local level. So the blogs start virally, not by diktat, and the participation in polls is borne of a few super-keen activists.

And at the other end of the spectrum from bloggers we have the ones who troll about at the bottom of the Herald and Scotsman websites, the real 'Cyber-Nats'. Well, let me just say that the very notion that a political party that is organisationally and strategically capable of winning an election would decide to send out those tin-foil-hat-wearing, venom-spouting, inarticulate nutjobs as part of a tactic to promote the party line is absolutely laughable. The fact that they can see the hostility they're drawing and still carry on as they do shows what complete muppets they are.

You think it's even possible to organise them? Think again. And you think it's only the SNP who have them? Well, only SNP trolls have the name, but there are Labour trolls as well, and Tory trolls, to stay nothing of UKIP and BNP trolls. If I were to hazard a guess at why there seem so many, I'd suggest that it's just that the SNP trolls are more concentrated, focusing on the Scottish outlets, rather than the full gamut of UK-based media options.

So are we, in our numbers, harming the Scottish blogosphere?

Well, no. Firstly, you get a massive range of priorities, approaches, perspectives and styles within the SNP blogosphere (go through my blogroll, pick any five SNP sites, and you'll see what I mean), so we're a fairly vibrant community in our own right, and it'll be interesting to see how things unfold when something triggers a massive internal debate within the party.

That we outnumber the others is hardly our fault, when anyone can produce a blog if they wish. I'll be considering Labour in particular another time, but we can't be blamed if the number of visible Tory bloggers can be counted on one hand, or if the number of prominent Scottish LibDem bloggers remains in single digits (but despite, or perhaps because of that, produces consistently high-quality, readable posts). It's for them to take the initiative, and interested SNP activists shouldn't hold back just because the other parties can't get their act together. It's the absence of the other parties that's causing a problem, and not the presence of the SNP.

And did the Cyber-Nats drive Kez out?

Only she really knows the answer to this, but I'd hazard a no. Now the trolls who keep on making the SNP look prattish on newspaper websites day in and day out did migrate to the blogosphere and did home in on Kez, but that could be because she'd already made a name for herself, or it could be that they do check the blogs, but Kez's posts acted like a red rose to a bull (geddit?) and set them off, foaming at the mouth.

But Kez pre-moderated her comments, and always had the option of zapping them (sometimes she took it and it might not have been a wise course of action; others she didn't and perhaps could have done reasonably enough). Also, the fact that they kept peddling the same approach that just makes the Party look idiotic does suggest a certain pigshite-like thickness about our friends in the Comments section meant that someone with half a brain (and Kez has a full one) could squash them in their sleep. Indeed, it probably suited Kez to keep the comments there and let them stand for themselves. "This is the level of our opponents," she could quite rightly say to her colleagues. Of course, that would beg the question of how Labour lost last year, but nevertheless, those idiots could and should have been a morale-booster to any Labour blogger.

But did it get too much for her? Well, legal threats aside, Kez has never struck me as someone to back down from a challenge or walk away from something when it gets too rough. Rather, her own blog showed that she could take part in the rough-and-tumble just as well as anyone else. She could have taken those folks if she'd wanted. Did SNP activists drive her away from her keyboard? No, she's not the type to be driven away like that, and she wouldn't want to give them the satisfaction.

All the same, at the risk of becoming a lightning rod for the CyberNats - those on the comments pages anyway - let me say this, SNP member to supposed SNP supporters: you are the ones who should be packing up the keyboards. You're doing the party, its cause and its image no good at all. you're making the rest of us, the rational non-headbanging majority, look oafish. Step aside.

The SNP isn't damaging the Scottish blogosphere. SNP members aren't damaging the online debate, but certain 'supporters' on the newspaper websites are damaging not cyberspace, but their own party, and they don't even see it. It's time the rest of us took our image back.


James said...

Very interesting. The cybernats (anonymous Scotsman and Herald versions, as opposed to the frequently very smart blogging Nats) are definitely damaging the SNP, not least with the journalists who write the stories they comment on. I was told there was an encouragement many years ago to members to get online, although obviously if so this wasn't the result they were after.

Good luck getting the message across (I mean it). It would be really pleasing to see a slightly calmer public debate on the media's sites.

I just hope this thread doesn't get swamped with people comparing you to ZaNu Liebour for failing to see the good work they're doing the moment the newspaper websites get updated each night...

Stephen Glenn said...

Onb you comments on the Scottish Lib Dem Blogs I'd have to add that possibly because our small number does write generally a high quality product it may well tend to put other potnetial bloggers off.

Again on Saturday I had some people coming up to me saying they loved the blog but could never hope to compete with the amount, quality and standard that I (or the others) put in.

There are times I would like a little extra support out there, and may start referring Lib Dems back to my early days (at least pre-Livingston by election)

Ideas of Civilisation said...

I couldn't agree more with much of this. That the comments sections on newspaper sites still exist always surprises me.

The argument is that having comments sections allows the newspaper to get more online visitors, meaning they can sell more advertising space.

Even if this is true it's very short-sighted. I and many others increasingly avoid the online versions altogether because of the bile. And are there are many advertisers really want to be associated with this?

In any case my theory about the madder elements is this - there's no more of them now than there was before the internet. There have always been strange people sitting at home fulminating, and probably writing green ink letters. But now we can see them online.

And if it's any consolation I doubt you'll get swamped by the more insane newspaper site posters if only because I'm not convinced many of them read blogs.

Justified Spinner said...

I also particularly go with IoS.
The internet being a universal forum, you're definitely going to get the weird along with the wonderful.

For the most part bloggers seem to engage their brains before going to press.
This doesn't seem to apply on the online newspapers.

The medium for both blogging and newspaper comments sites is the internet.
There, for my money, the similarities end.

Bloggers (for the most part) have a sense of humour, unlike their counterparts elsewhere.

But some of the stuff on the Scotsman and Herald websites from our side (and from others) is bizarre, and frankly, vile.

For sheer nuttiness can I also commend you to any string at the bottom of an Alan Cochrane article in the Telegraph. There you will find many interesting life forms,some of whom I'm sorry to say are supporters of the campaign for an English parliament.
(If you don't believe me take a look at the Cross of St George blog - oh boy!).
Some of these guys, unfortunately, seem more motivated by hatred of Scots, than by love of England.
This is just daft; they damage their own cause just as much as our more rabid SNP contributors do.
Neither side realises that we want the same thing (ie independence for our countries), and that tabulating these insane hatreds is just irrational and unacceptable.

I would certainly urge our contributors to keep it sane, and to just stop writing, if they can't.

One point to note is that the hour of the contribution on the newspaper strings seems to affect the input quite significantly.
Pub closing time in particular seems to trigger some of the more exotic input.
The adage; "don't write anything if you've had a drink, or if you're really, really angry about something", applies.

Will said...

Thanks for the good wishes, people... we'll see what happens. To be honest, I'd prefer a horde of angry trolls descending on here than have this completely ignored: it'd show that I was at least making an impact, and that I'd got under the skin of some of them. And I know for a fact that people have reached this blog from the Comments section of Brian Taylor's blog - another focal point for headbangers of all persuasions. Perhaps nothing will come of this, but I thought I'd use this space for good rather than evil. :)

Stephen, you've hit on the Bloggers' Paradox: in some circles, it's a mark of quality to make things look easy; for us, it's a sign of quality to make it look difficult - for people to ask how on earth we find the time to put posts together. Of course, the blogosphere relies on it looking easy, so more people will involve themselves. A blogger's individual standing relies on the act looking difficult. Maybe we need to think of new ways to make it look easy, and as accessible as it's meant to be?

IoC - fair points, all of which are well made.

JS - very astute and reasonable.

Ideas of Civilisation said...


If we want to encourage more people to do it I think we have to start by getting the more insane Herald/Scotsman commentators to start their own blogs.

After all once people see that they'll surely think that ANYONE can do it.

Will said...

I'd agree with you, IoC, but perhaps I should have said that we need to prove that anyone can do it well. Leave the blogosphere in the hands of the MSM-website commenters, and all you'll do is find out what happens when you give a thousand monkeys a thousand keyboards.

julie said...

Good post Will.

Something occured to me as I was reading this. I remember a labour campaigner talking about the demographic of their potential voters.
'It's zimmers and skateboards,' he said. 'If they have a zimmer they're voting for us. If they're on a skateboard, they're voting SNP or Tommy Sheridan.
Is the reason there are more SNP bloggers, simply that the SNP has more young people in it? Labour has an older demographic I think; certainly judging by the North Lanarkshire paper with all the councillors on the back. I think it may be true of other established parties as well; there aren't a lot of Tory blogs for example.

Re posts; I wish people knew how much goes into writing a post. It can take a couple of days to write a good one. But I'd hate to go down the road of complicating writing to show how difficult it is; quite to the contrary, the sign of clever writing is that it doesn't appear so. As Beau Brummel said to someone who said how elegant he was looking; 'If you noticed me, then I cannot be elegant'. Good stuff anyway, Will.