Have you ever wondered how you try to poison and shut down a debate and a political environment that you fear you’ve found yourself on the losing side of, readers? Well, it’s funny you should ask, because as it happens we’ve got a visiting professor – an expert authority on the subject – with us today to give us a demonstration.
Make sure you’ve got your pens and notepads ready. He’s got a very busy schedule and we can’t afford to have him here for long.
1. FIRST, GET EVERYONE GOOD AND ANGRY
You need to get yourself noticed, and in the modern world the easiest way to do that is to be a bit of a trolling dick. So start bashing out some wildly generalised and highly offensive abuse of large groups of people.
“Scottish nationalists and Brexiteers” covers perhaps 75% of Scotland (almost 50% of people vote SNP and 38% voted Leave, and the crossover is quite limited), so that’s a cracking start. Ideally say it in both the headline and the caption for added effect.
Of course, journalists often complain that headlines and picture captions are written by someone else (an editor or sub-editor), so make certain that you’ve said the same thing explicitly in the body copy of the article too so people know it was you.
Be sure to use the word “all” so that there’s no mistaking that you mean everyone in those categories, and if you can rope in another one while you’re there – “Corbynistas” – then that’s better still. You’ve now just called pretty much 80% of Scots “utterly vacuous”. With luck that should get them quite hacked off.
Make ridiculously over-the-top claims wherever you can. It might be quite a lark to suggest that political intolerance didn’t exist before 2014 and that it’s all the fault of Scottish people, for example. (Obviously you’d only actually mean Scottish people on one side of the argument.)
It helps if you can fire out derogatory and pejorative terms like “cybernats” to dismiss anyone who objects, or call them “deranged maniacs”. Crassly hinting at a likeness to the murderous sectarian bigots and terrorists of Northern Ireland might be fruitful.
Still, don’t stop there. You need to do it for a sustained period of time – six years, say – for it to really work, and you need to be in people’s faces at every turn.
So ensure that you churn out stuff for every possible outlet – not just the Herald but the Scotsman, the Daily Record, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the New Statesman, the BBC, STV, Channel 4, the Independent, Scottish Review, Conservative Home, absolutely anyone who’ll have you – so that there’s absolutely no escape from your face and your spin for anyone who turns on the TV or radio, opens a newspaper or looks at political news on the internet.
Of course, those outlets are all one-way, which is ideal. You get to impose your views on people but they have no means of answering back (do airily announce that you’d never read BTL comments). This will likely prove quite frustrating for them, increasing their anger as you merrily mock and belittle them, which serves your purpose.
For advanced-level credit, regularly bemoan the “politics of hate” of the “cybernats” while not only ignoring that of the other side, but actively endorsing the most abusive proponents of it and joining in with their attempts to antagonise.
2. MAKE IT PERSONAL
It’s not enough just to have provocative opinions. If you really want people properly wound up you have to personalise it as much as possible, so you should make the most outrageous comparisons you can muster. Unfortunately Hitler’s been done to death already, so how about a more modern monster?
Donald Trump? Perfect. Now, you’ll probably need to have kept the personal attacks coming on a near-weekly basis for years to goad a response out of your subject:
But eventually you should get one, however brief and gently acidic:
You’re well on the way now. Perhaps try to get under the skin of other popular figures with snide, condescending comments based on out-of-context micro-quotes:
Then, like any troll, proudly show off the reaction you got:
And now you’re almost set.
3. THE BAIT-AND-SWITCH
Having invested years in making sure that everyone on one side of the debate has good reason to think you’re a complete arse and openly glorying in the fact that you’re needling them, it’s time to suddenly play the victim.
Twitter is the perfect medium for this move. Firstly you can close/hide your account so that people can’t easily expose your hypocrisy by pointing to all the times you’ve insulted them yourself. Helpfully, that also makes it a lot harder for sceptics to find any evidence of the bad things that have supposedly been said to you.
And with your own history wiped, it’s time to start rewriting it.
Barely 24 hours after flouncing off Twitter, you can have a column in the Times, in which you complain piteously (for money, natch) about “misrepresentation”, apparently having suffered a major self-awareness failure. You can bleat that a mild letters-page barb two years ago unleashed the hounds of Hell, or that being politely corrected by a politician amounts to a coded signal for a campaign of intimidation.
It’s important to emphasise that it’s never your fault for being wrong or deliberately provocative, of course. None of the subjects of your attacks, whether they be powerful politicians or powerless members of the public, are ever permitted legitimate anger in reaction to your provocation. They must simply endure it forever in meek silence, even when they’ve been obliged to pay for it through a legally-enforced licence fee.
They must ON NO ACCOUNT call you a “disgruntled walnut” or “angry Weetabix”, for example. The vacuous, dishonest, stupid, bullying cultist cyber-scum.
Congratulations! You’ve shaped public perception! Take the rest of the week off.
The worst attacks on David Torrance that anyone could show on Tuesday night were three tweets collated by – ironically – a highly abusive anonymous Unionist troll:
The first was in fact an ironic tweet from someone mocking the people who might talk that way. The second is undoubtedly pretty rude, but we’re not entirely convinced that “quisling prick” is orders of magnitude worse that “vacuous cybernat”. And the third was three weeks ago, so it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine it was what brought about his tearful fainting fit on Tuesday night.
And conspicuously, not a single one of them was actually addressed to Torrance or featured his Twitter @ tag, so the only way he’d have seen any of them at all was if he was searching for his own name. In 24 hours we have as yet found nothing nasty enough to conceivably merit a diva-esque walkout.
Social media is an open forum, on which other people have as much power as you. If you put yourself there, you better be prepared to deal with the reactions you elicit from people by what you do. That doesn’t mean you have to tolerate abuse – there are a wide range of built-in tools which can filter and block messages – but it does mean that you’re down in the stalls with everyone else, not pontificating from the safety of a media tower. You have to fight your corner.
It’d be easy to say that people like Torrance (and his thinkalike chum Chris Deerin of the Daily Mail, who also performed a loud Twexit last year, before scuttling back barely a week later) were simply a bunch of weedy snivelling hypocrites, delighted to dish it out but pathetically unable to take it.
But that would be too kind a judgement. Articles like the one in the Times today are part of a desperate and deliberate rearguard action against the democratisation of opinion, and an attempt to delegitimise anyone who would challenge the status quo.
The political landscape is shifting faster than anyone can keep up with, and those who see themselves as gatekeepers, interpreting events for the benefit of the poor dumb plebs, live in terror of being rendered obsolete by change and by ridicule. Any voices ranged against them must be tainted and discredited, painted as a vicious lynchmob of thugs and bullies. There’s no shortage of eager and willing mouthpieces.
The snide, sneering sarcasm is merely the house style. But engagement is precisely what Torrance and his ilk fear, because engagement means debate and debate means that people might expose all the holes in your arguments – the ones the Herald’s comment editors instantly delete in that nice safe walled and controlled environment.
In the light of an epic track record of spectacular wrongness, readers and viewers and listeners are increasingly realising that most political commentors are clueless and therefore pointless. They actually know nothing about politics, only the self-reinforcing circle-jerk outlook of their own tiny social clique of other hacks.
And with the media serving as the front line of the No campaign – more so than ever now that Scottish Labour has been left a shattered, broken mess by the last one – that would be a catastrophic loss for the Union.
So expect this routine to be played out many more times over the coming months and years (not just against independence, but also Jeremy Corbyn and anything else perceived as a threat to the existing order). Because the one thing that can never be allowed to happen is normal people being allowed to speak and think for themselves.
The formula is like a vaccine, to be deployed in greater and greater doses because the electorate (or as they’re seen by the punditariat, the virus) is developing immunity. And that, rather than a couple of nutters with placards outside a Tunnocks factory, is the “Scottish resistance” that has them quaking in their shoes.