Zoomers and the Speech Police

Ephemera-Poster-Paris-Student-Political-On-Nous-Intoxique-1969By Alistair Davidson

The oddest thing to happen to me this month was my old friend and comrade Nick Durie appearing in the Daily Record as the cybernat de jour. He’d posted on Facebook attacking a Record journalist in very strong terms. Several of us told him he was being far too aggressive, there was a brief Twitter flutter, and he apologised and explained his intent. As recently as two years ago that would have been the end of it, but those innocent days are long gone now – in post referendum Scotland, our second-largest newspaper sees one activist’s intemperate rant as page 2 national news, quoting Labour as saying the Facebook post was “reminiscent of Stalinist Russia.” and distinguishing between “decent nationalists” who criticised the post and “cretins” who supported it. It’s almost enough to make me regret being one of the “decent” nationalists.

The Record’s argument was essentially that treating journalists as political actors and insulting them on social media is a threat to freedom of speech. Journalists on all sides are understandably and rightly keen to be able to write without fearing any kind of reprisal. But there is more than one double-standard at work here. Other citizens deserve the same right to freedom of speech as journalists. In the end, Nick Durie sent an inflammatory message out to a few hundred people on Facebook. The Daily Record’s retaliatory condemnation, with Nick’s photograph attached, will have been read by over two hundred thousand. Many other ‘cybernats’ have received the same treatment.

(Intriguingly, the photograph the Record used is of Nick holding a dossier of evidence of corruption in Glasgow City Council he had gathered. Somewhere out there, in some parallel universe, the Record is more interested in that topic than aggressive facebook posts.)

My friend’s appearance in the Record set me thinking about my own sense of fear when I write. It’s been growing for a while, as I’ve gained some tiny amount of power – I write articles for Bella, I sit on the advisory board of Open Rights Group Scotland. One day I might like to work in politics full time. That desire to make a difference comes with massive pressure to only express ‘reasonable’ views, to stay within the narrow bounds of what is often a delusionally right-wing journalistic discourse. What if one day I am branded an extremist in the press? What if something I tweet in anger now is used by my opponents later, out of context, as has happened to Mhairi Black?

‘Respectable’, ‘reasonable’, ‘extremist’, ‘zoomer’ – defining these words is an act of power, with the purpose of policing the borders of discussion and thought. It is trivial to demonstrate that acceptability is determined by the ideas behind words, not the words themselves. How else could it is acceptable for a journalist to call benefit claimants ‘scum’, but not for a claimant on twitter to call a journalist ‘scum’? The former is a professional with a right to their opinion; the latter is apparently a ‘zoomer’ threatening freedom of speech itself.

As political activists we do have to moderate our tone sometimes, to pitch our ideas to the centre, but we must not allow Britain’s vile tabloid press to dictate terms to us. I can think of nothing more cowardly than remaining silent in the face of injustice, failing to call out its perpetrators and cheerleaders, however noble they believe themselves to be. The day our movement hides its anger against capitalism, the union, and their terrible human cost will be a sad day indeed.

In a country where a man can starve to death in a freezing flat beside a pile of unsent CVs, perhaps it is better to be a zoomer, whatever the personal cost might be.

Comments (15)

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  1. Elaine Black says:

    We will stand with you when the time comes Alistair. And it will be ‘all of us’ – not ‘all of them’.

  2. Peter A Bell says:

    Oh! How I identify with the sentiments expressed in this article.

  3. bearinorkney says:

    If you write eloquently in defence of the common man and woman, then you deserve the support of all people who have a sense of fair play. Very little of this seems to exist in the mainstream media and so we are all having a shot at balancing the deficit. More power to all our elbows and don’t ever let them grind us down.

  4. lepin1 says:

    Well said Alistair, whats good for the goose!

  5. David McCann says:

    Andy Murray’s tweeted support for independence on September 17th, evinced the following retort from HarryS …

    “Wish you had been killed at Dunblane. Your life will be a misery from now on.”

    Now that’s a Zoomer who should have had his face on the front pages of every newspaper in the land.

  6. Obamanator91 says:

    “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

  7. bowanarrow says:

    Rudyard Kipling,

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too:
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same:.
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
    And never breathe a word about your loss:
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much:
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

    1. Drew Campbell says:

      If you can keep your head when all about you
      Are losing theirs…
      It’s just possible you don’t understand the situation.

  8. jivetoaster says:

    “The Record’s argument was essentially that treating journalists as political actors and insulting them on social media is a threat to freedom of speech.”

    They need a dictionary to help them distinguish between “insult” and “threat”.

  9. Clootie says:

    Journalist – a person who writes for a newspaper.

    I supposr those working at the Daily Retard fall under such a definition. However it does demonstrate meagre ambition if you would settle for that job descrption. We all have a clear concept of what good journalism should be and the Scottish editions of the MSM and the BBC fall far short of that measure.

    The Daily Record sets new lows every day as if intended to predict it’s sales chart.

    …perhaps one day…

  10. jjimstir says:

    The problem is that rather than be “journalists” the employees of these rags make their living pedalling propaganda from one party or another. If you do not want to be politicised the answer is simple be journalists.

  11. Superb article. Complete agreement

  12. Johnny come lately says:

    Never a truer word said, but despite the constant attacks by the right wing media attack dogs on so called “cybernats” the thirst for political change continues to grow. The powers that be continue to be exposed on a weekly basis. The spin, disinformation, lies and media manipulation is pulled out from beneath the rocks and exposed to the glaring light of truth on a daily basis. People are talking, discussing, debating everywhere in Scotland. The media can no longer talk at us or down to us. The media is reduced to the same state as the Scottish Labour rabble, throwing mud and name calling. OHHH how the mighty fall. The 4th estate, don’t make me laugh.
    Imo opinion most see through this garbage, some are slower, but have caught on, and some are even slower but will eventualy catch on., which means it’s like water off of a ducks back to a large extent. Keep it up folks, their losing the argument, and attacking the messengers is futile.

  13. Steve Bowers says:

    Excellent article, their reaction shows their fear.

  14. Biniput says:

    Would someone explain what a “Zoomer” is? What do you do to “Zoom”?

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