Britain: 'Women Defy UKIP' on Facebook

How online anonymity and the rise of far right have politicised ordinary Britons

“They are genuinely scary,” says Jane (a pseudonym) about The UK Independence Party (UKIP), the friendly pint-swilling face of Britain’s far right wing. “Like a parody of the Nazis… you’ve got to laugh at them… but they’re like pinstriped Nazis.” Until recently, Jane lived an ordinary life in a small city in the North of England, had no political affiliations and quietly raised her kids.

Yet over the last year the rise of UKIP – and its members’ various PR blunders - have become hard to ignore. And as other more overtly radical right wing groups have collapsed, the party appears to have sucked much of the resulting maelstrom into its fold. This plays out in real life and in increasingly large online communities where socially negative views can be flung without recrimination.

I have written before about how right wing communities tend to do extremely well online. And Jane tells us she was shocked by UKIP supporters’ Twitter profiles and affiliations. So, back in April – ahead of the European elections - she and few others women “were having a chat on Twitter [about] the more misogynistic policies suggested by UKIP and one of us said: ‘let’s start a women’s group against them’.”

This was just an ordinary group of British women who decided to stand up for something they believed in. “There was no serious intent to form a movement,” she explains “yet immediately on Facebook and Twitter we were subjected to the most horrific abuse and trolling.”

Since then the main Twitter pages has swelled to just under 5000 followers while ‘Women Against UKIP’ has grown its community on Facebook to 17,540 members. This is by far and away the most active group on social media, posts multiple stories daily and is growing at an impressive rate.

“The page is very time consuming, as is UKIP,” says Jane “and we can only attribute its success to them. Their constant misogyny, veiled racism and homophobia provide us with all the ammo we need.  The support we get amazes us, and we never expected this to take off in this way. We are still daily surprised when the likes keep going up.”

Yet in the activism arena it is hard to translate “online activities into real life” because people are afraid warns Jane. “[This means] our main energies are invested in Social Media.”

It is important to note, UKIP claims to a libertarian party without racist overtones which simply wants to get Britain out of the European Union. In the only in-depth (albeit pro-UKIP) analysis of the subject - Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain - Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin explain why a wide variety of ‘left behind’ voters from both sides of the political spectrum have been pulled into the message.

Either way, the party certainly lends itself very easily to parody… and in the May election a fictional pub landlord actually intends to stand against the party leader. This makes it especially easy to laugh and not take any of it seriously. Yet Jane is adamant we should not be deceived… and she and her group have put large amounts of energy into sharing this point of view.