activism Labour media Politics

The slings and arrows of outrageous social media

When you set up a forum or a social media group, the software sets out a series of steps for you which assume an authoritarian hierarchy. It assumes you are ‘the administrator’ – although you have the option of setting up further administrators. Then it asks you to specify the moderators (sort of electronic grand viziers) and you write the rules. You then get to decide who can post stuff, who can see stuff, and a host of other things like whether admins or moderators get to see, and pass or decline posts, before or after they appear on the page.

You also, of course, have the inalienable right to ‘switch off’ anyone who, after you have made your personal interpretation of your rules, has committed a cardinal sin. It is fascinating to watch these groups emerge and evolve. If you watch with this perspective in mind, you see dictators rise and fall, you see oligarchies, democracies, autonomous collectives and every other permutation of human organisation developing and falling.

But the software was designed with dictatorship in mind, and where humans manage to create something else, they do so ‘against the tide’, as it were. They manage it surprisingly often. Three social media situations in my personal online world this week caused me to do some serious thinking.

Who would fardels bear?

  1. The temptation to rule

I’m currently a despot in one social media group, which I set up with another person who then disappeared. I’ve posted an appeal for two more volunteers which so far, members are managing not to notice. I can just feel those power-muscles twitching – come on, comrades! Quick, volunteer before I become immovable!

2. People power bites back

Elsewhere, a large, locally focused political group (around 1000 members) was set up with two administrators (always dodgy that – if you’re going for dictatorship, have one or three, then you can’t come to an impasse, with one saying ‘yes’ and one saying ‘no’). This group had a rule with massive room for interpretation:  local issues only, admins to decide what counts as ‘local’. How big is local? How far do national stories impact on local elections, and thereby become local issues?

No surprise that it became a point of contention. (If you’re going for any kind of system of management, have rules that are not wide open to interpretation). Personally, I would have resolved it by saying okay, if you think a national and/or party-political issue is relevant to local elections, please post with a comment saying why, and what the local discussion point is. Another option would be to do the hands-on moderator thing and just delete any posts that you don’t consider local.

Yet another option would be to tell people off for doing it, and if they do it again, boot them out. That happened once too often in this particular group, and the organic nature of human social groups came into play. Quite a few members felt the people who’d been booted out mattered. Some (myself included) made “I’m leaving this group” statements and left. Others argued the decision on the page. Someone set up a poll, and lots of others joined in both the poll and the discussion in the comments after it.

To me, it was all very interesting, and I’d expect the group to be the better for it. To the administrator and the grand viz… sorry, admin two (or was it moderator?) It was a ‘horrendous situation’. People got very upset and switched their accounts off entirely, and an attempt has been made to go back to the original rule, and a warning about breaking it. No progress there, then. I suspect another rebellion will happen, somewhere down the line.

Proud contumelies

3. Partisan administration

Meanwhile, in a national Labour discussion group with around three and a half thousand members, someone posted an article from a lefty Jewish website, and one of the three admins rejected it. The Jewish poster messaged an appeal to an admin, and was angrily told that his post was ‘contentious’.  Well, you do hear things about Labour and anti-semitism, and I personally have the impression that the current leadership of Labour are very agin socialist Jews so I tried posting another Jewish socialist article to test the situation. It was deleted with no message to me, but a telling off to the original poster for ‘telling’.

I considered starting a revolution in that group, then I thought about what strange little worlds these are, and about how upset the (now self-deleted) admin of that local group was and I thought nah, I won’t fight this one, because…

Strutting your hour on the stage

What we really need to remember, whilst observing and or participating in all this stuff, is that admins are not really in charge; that over and above all these lessons in human organisation, there is this thing called the CEO – because after all, very few popular social media sites are open source. Most of them are profiteering companies, standing ready to switch off any group that they feel is seriously interfering with where they want their profit-spinning content to be going.

If the boss hasn’t switched your group off, your group is not doing anything they consider seriously threatening. If the boss has switched your group off (I know of one very big, very politically relevant Instagram account that disappeared this week) if that happens to your group, you should probably congratulate yourself for giving the system a serious scare, find another platform and KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

If that hasn’t happened to your group, stay cool and just regard it all as lessons in human society. Try not to get upset about the fate of little worlds, and plug on…. or not, if you have a better idea. Two of the players in those dramas I describe above (sorry about me waxing Shakespearian with the titles, it just got me that way) – two of those players got so upset they switched their accounts off. Maybe they even deleted them. But don’t worry, girls and boys – even if they did that, they are probably still alive out there in the world. You could even go and have a coffee with them, as long as you know how to contact them – surely you haven’t been depending on soc media messaging to contact people?


There are social media contacts, and there are friends. If your social and political life is largely online, make sure you have phone numbers or email addies for the people who matter to you. As to real friends, for heaven’s sake, know who you can trust, and have real world contact details for them (addresses for the people you *really* trust and *actually* know, and fave pub/cafe meet-up places/days for the rest).