Phil Quin on trolling

Left-wing trolling merely serves to reinforce the impression that Labour is the nasty party.

Phil Quin describes the Labour acolytes and their trolling in the recent Wellington local body elections.

In the months leading up to the election, a number of Young Labor activists organised themselves into a troll army. Seemingly without relent, they inundated Twitter, Facebook and Reddit with vile, invariably baseless, personal attacks on Nick. Far worse, they aimed their vitriol at Porirua, where Nick had been serving as Mayor. ?Porirua, they claimed days before the city received a AA rating from Standard & Poors, was broke (false). Rates had skyrocketed under Nick’s leadership (false). Services had been slashed (false). Nick closed Cannons Creek pool (go there for yourself; he didn’t). Most revealing was their constant, condescending refrain that Nick was somehow selfishly “abandoning” the city, as if Porirua residents are incapable of taking care of themselves. A heady blend of dogwhistling and white man’s burden bollocks.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. These thousands of nasty tweets and posts and comments did not shift a single vote. The vast majority of voters wouldn’t have had a clue what was being said in social media swamps, and are smart enough to ignore it if they had.

Retweets, likes and trolling do not win elections. No one is going to change their vote on the basis of what someone says on Twitter.

But what concerns me is not only that young political activists seem to think trolling of this kind is acceptable; it’s that it seems to be the only mode of political engagement they know.

Back in the day they’d boo at public meetings and shout down candidates, now they can do it from the comfort of Mummy’s basement.

Certianly, my early years in political campaigns weren’t all sweetness and light. I tore down signs, wrote hyperbolic, dishonest direct mail letters, made countless bogus talkback calls. Youthful exuberance is not always easy to contain, much less channel productively.

But at least our manic energy was directed outwards ? towards voters.

Heh, I did the same.

The trolls who made a sport of vilifying Nick (who, by the way, ignored all of it) confuse shouting invective in an echo chamber with campaigning. Not only is it bad for our political discourse to have young people so eager to propagate lies and insults; it augurs badly? for Labour’s electoral prospects to have a coming generation of activists and MPs who think abusing is campaigning. If they had knocked on one door for every nasty tweet, Lester would have won by more.

This has been Labour’s modus operandi since 2009. It has never worked. Sue Moroney is one of the worst offenders, Trevor Mallard used to be until he shacked up with Jane Clifton.

The trolls themselves can’t be blamed entirely. Andrew Little himself personally attacked Nick, calling him a right-winger, falsely claiming his campaign manager was a high-profile ACT Party member. Another senior frontbencher breathlessly lied to the gallery behind the scenes about the state of Porirua’s finances. When Young Labour activists witness this from senior leadership, it’s not altogether surprising they come to think replicating that modus operandi online is a good use of their time.

When I chatted after the election with one of Lester’s campaign team about the troll problem, he said he “couldn’t control it”; but, then, miraculously, when I pointed out the tweet pictured above, it was deleted within minutes. Certainly we had no trouble maintaining such discipline in the Leggett camp, despite all the provocation.

I hope this isn’t an irreversible trend in New Zealand politics. If it is, you ain’t seen nothing yet when it comes to turnout. Voters don’t want a bar of this stuff, and don’t confuse their disengagement with apathy. It’s disgust.

Social media can be great fun, and I rarely go ten minutes without checking my often feisty Twitter feed. But let’s not kid ourselves. Accosting adversaries from the safety of our iPhones, however viscerally satisfying, achieves nothing beyond reassuring us and those around us of our superior virtue.

Twiter is dying. It is infested with nasty, snarky, ineffective blow-hards who like to virtue signal when they aren’t bullying people. No one ever won an election via Twitter or Facebook.


– Phil Quin