Discussing Politics on Social Media
Margaret Thatcher is dead and (not only) the internet is celebrating. I learned of her death during a compulsive Facebook check. Without further comments, somebody had posted the video “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” from the 1993 movie The Wizard of Oz. The respective clip on Youtube is now a rallying point for Thatcher critique.
As reactions to Thatcher’s death, various articles, comments and pictures have emerged (or have been merely rediscovered). Subsequently, I have witnessed Facebook friends being confronted with their mediated affiliation which does not seem to be based on anything such as shared interests and convictions.
“YES. Margaret Thatcher is dead. This lady’s not returning”: The website http://www.isthatcherdeadyet.co.uk has been impatiently waiting for these news and finally got to update their message. Now, it offers an event-finder for parties near you, songs to celebrate to and encourages users to share their experience via #nowthatchersdead (a hash tag which has lead to some despair among Cher fans for a while who read now-that-Cher-(i)s-dead).
Also, the meme machine is on. We can expect some interesting contributions within the upcoming days. The picture below is in line with an idea suggested by Sunny Hundal in 2011 ‒ now it seems to be an even more topical suggestion: to privatise Margaret Thatcher’s funeral as “a fitting tribute to her legacy”. Precautionary, the British Labour MP Tom Watson warned with a wagging finger: “I hope that people on the left of politics respect a family in grief today”. And just in case the moralizing censorship approach would not work, Steve Hynd is currently compiling a black list of critics.
Mediated events such as Thatcher’s death appear to be of great value for clearing Facebook friends lists: The threads suddenly seem to act a microscopic reproductions of diverse (mass) media opinions. One dominant practice is to repost precast articles which match the respective political sentiment or a briefly (and usually angrily) outlined argument. Peer-funded media such as Facebook bring together gleeful joy and the internet’s sense of black humor with the comments of those who are either guilt-tripped into posthumously sympathizing with Thatcher and those seriously trying to defend her former decisions. Prime given reasons are in this case: You are a) a woman who is suddenly demanded to identify with Thatcher seeing that she was Britain’s first female prime minister and ‒ as a woman ‒ must therefore have plenty in common with everybody else who shares her biological gender; b) you are asked to consider the ‘hard times’ and historic conditions during which some decisions had to be made.
Bringing together contrary opinions such as it is the case on Facebook, may actually manifest a current advantage of these social media platforms. Seeing however, that there seems to be a tendency to use events such as Thatcher’s death to identify people of shared or oppositional interests (which may be subsequently rather ignored than actually deleted), these occasions may also lead to a user-driven homogenization of personal threads.