Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Attitude Is Everything

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Attitude Is Everything

Article excerpt

Undecided in the run-up to the election, Diana Beech explains why her vote was an act of defiance against her own colleagues

We are all aware of the benefits of social media for spreading news, discussing developments and promoting causes. It is believed by many to embody a free space for comment and debate - which may explain why more and more academics are coming to inhabit the virtual arena.

With the ability to reach out to the masses in an instant, Twitter and Facebook were the first ports of call for many in the UK when campaigning in the run-up to this month's general election. Yet the Conservative victory that was apparently so surprising to the pollsters highlights only too clearly what can go wrong when the freedom of the social realm is restricted by its very own users.

I, for one, was convinced that I was going to wake up to a Labour landslide on the morning of 8 May - not because that's what I had voted for but because my Facebook feed had been awash for weeks with anti-Tory protests and proclamations of superiority from my left-leaning, mainly academic friends.

Don't get me wrong - I don't mind a bit of partisan banter from all parts of the political spectrum. I embrace diversity and am particularly appreciative that we live in a society where we can make a political choice. I also came into this election as a "floating voter", not particularly enamoured by the offerings from any one political party. So my vote really was out there for the picking.

Yet, instead of managing to persuade me to put a cross in the box for the Left, the relentless, self-righteous and intolerant nature of the comments I saw from colleagues on my Facebook feed only drove me away from even considering joining their cause.

Of course, I want to see fairness, equality and justice prevail in any policies governing my country. But I didn't appreciate seeing, time and time again, posts from my peers packed full of expletives implying that I was bigoted for even doubting the Labour or the Green economic approach.

And if the swearing and cursing wasn't enough, add to this some convoluted language for dramatic effect. "Pusillanimous" and "myopically self-interested" are just two of the terms I saw used to characterise "typical" Tory voters - language that is just another way to enhance moral superiority over the supposedly "stupid" middle classes of England, setting a syntactical challenge that very few could be bothered to win.

I am not saying that the political Right is immune from petty name-calling and self-importance. However, looking at my social media accounts alone, I lost count of the number of times I saw the words "moron" and "scum" used in reference to Conservative or Lib Dem voters. I didn't see anything of the sort emanating from the political centre or the Right.

There has been a lot of talk of late of "shy Tories" being responsible for the electoral outcome. Is it any wonder that people had to be shy about their voting intentions when any admission of Tory solidarity would have resulted in the social media version of public stoning?

I understand that emotions run high when it comes to politics. Yet there are no excuses for the mob culture that has developed in online academic circles, which is quashing the very freedoms of speech and thought that our industry depends on and ought to be defending. …

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