There’s much talk these days about the threat to democracy posed by Kremlin-backed troll factories spreading disinformation online. But maybe we should pay more attention to our own homegrown “astroturfers” – political operators who concoct a following to give the appearance of spontaneous grass roots support.
Looking at Facebook, for instance, you’d think frustrated pro-Brexit activism was springing up everywhere. But dig deeper and you find that seven of the most active pro-Brexit groups – including the Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group – share the same administrator: a suspended Tory councillor called David Abbott. The same applies to avowedly non-political groups, Nuneaton Community Forum, a Facebook group supposedly catering for people in the marginal seat who want to have “a good old moan” about local matters, now appears to be run by the husband of a local Tory councillor who deletes criticism of the Tories.
People power is a powerful force in the age of digital democracy. Trouble is, it often has little to do with “the people”. ( Xavier Greenwood, The Week 14 Sept 2019).
How to find one’s way through the modern thicket of lies and misinformation? Depressing. But don’t opt out. Use your judgment based on recent history. To opt out is irresponsible and ultimately, if everyone did it, would be deeply damaging to the country and would play into the hands of the ruthless people with autocratic tendencies and shady intentions.