Social Networks

Rant: Facebook, & Farage "Common Sense"

Advertising works. It can make us buy some pretty grim-looking foodstuffs. It can convince us that something that costs ten times as much as it realistically should, is magically, worth the price tag. And sneakily, under the guise of “common sense”, can slip in some frankly rubbish ideas. This is because it laughs in the face of nuance. And chooses instead, to break everything down to a nice, neat black and white.

Take Britain, or ‘Blighty’, if you will: possibly the most controversial government, (in our lifetimes, at least), gained power in 1979, via a large slice of help from the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency. This featured the now infamous poster, “Labour isn’t Working.” Which boasted a snaking line of Hendon Young Conservatives, mocked up as a dole queue.  

Now whole communities have moved online and simple messaging is proving even more successful on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. In the run up to the Euro elections on 22nd May, we have been treated to some especially fabulous advertising. Our British National Party (BNP), in particular, always does an excellent line in parody songs - these work exceptionally well via social media, as they share themselves.

Remember the 2009 classic “Brand new leather jacket ”? Who could forget that one - it gained 745,428 views on YouTube (via just one version) and was set to tune of “I’ve got a new combine harvester” by the Wurzels. Quite incredible really. And funny, in a black sort of way. But it is nothing compared to this year’s Party Political Broadcast….

To the tune of, “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, always a favourite at both weddings and funerals, it featured a poor sad British bulldog disheartened by the Muslim population. Most memorably this included lines such as: "there's some who prey on little girls from takeaways and taxis.”

Fortunately this was promptly banned - because nice simple messages like these really do rinse through online communities. And across Europe, as austerity bites in, the far right is leaping forward to provide just such lovely, digestible answers. This is taking place in Greece, France and even in Norway and Sweden (which traditionally value lefty equality to the core). The simpler the message, the more effectively it will distribute itself.

In Britain the BNP are understood to go too far. ‘Everyone knows’ it is a bit rubbish to support them. Which leaves good bloke Farage and his friends at UKIP. This crew have an even simpler message in many ways. It values “honest pints” and good old-fashioned “common sense”. Rather brilliantly, UKIP don’t even have a manifesto and don’t intend to release one until they’ve won. Phew - those documents are massively dull to read.

“My message to UKIP supporters,” Farage wrote in a tweet on 2nd May: “is stay focused, stay dignified and keep the faith with good old-fashioned common sense.” This fine reasoning stands a 31% likelihood of success according to a YouGov poll at the end of last month. And the odds keep going up. Whilst on 4th May the Telegraph ran a headline: “Could a vote for Nigel Farage put Labour into No 10?”

This friendly pub chat really does go down a belter on Facebook. UKIP the party has 20,827 likes on the site. Whilst the Newton Abbot branch alone has 114,983 likes. Whack “Nigel Farage” in and he has 22,515 against his name, add “MEP” afterwards he has 31, 617.

The media may be shouting itself hoarse, but on Facebook at least, the people’s backlash is extremely limited. ‘Women Against UKIP’ is probably the most active group with 1,773 likes. The ‘Anti UKIP’ community has 372 likes. Whilst ‘Nigel Farage is an idiot’ has achieved a mere a 133 likes.

Makes sense, I guess. Even the vaguely left has a tendency to make everything far too complicated. This puts people’s backs up. Then ultimately descends into factionalism. Yet the UKIP crew really know how to work up an audience. Take the recent poster campaign. The press may have been spitting, seething and coughing blood, but ultimately they were just giving UKIP publicity, whilst Mr Farage and his friends beamed behind their simplistic images.

These are powerful and emotive. The “No Border, No Control” image featuring a picture of white cliffs of Dover broken by an escalator neatly taps into how many people feel. (As did the Nazi party through the austerity of the 1930s).  And now we have social media which allows things to ‘go viral’ – which, after all, only requires a bit of niche popularity.

Last Friday Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’, which has a go at discovering the truth behind the statistics, addressed the UKIP poster claim that 75% of British laws are made in Brussels along with Nick Griffin’s counter claim it is 7%. Not surprisingly there is no hard answer. Yet numbers are always advertising’s friend. They offer perfect cover for flim-flam… and are almost guaranteed to get a reaction. 

The traditional media has worsened all this craziness ten-fold. It has built a siege mentality amongst UKIP supporters and galvanised all those floating voters into action. As the left-wing press has bashed and parried, it has focused, almost exclusively, on the minutiae. The emphasis has all been on individual scandals; especially incidents where party members reveal themselves to be overtly racist. The problem is the voters (as John Harris put rather well in the Guardian) don’t really care about racism (‘casual racism’ is rife through Britain anyway).

If you want to criticise UKIP, surely the best approach is to stress that this party is ridiculous. Dangerous, of course. But absolutely ridiculous.  

The sensible way to tackle this nonsense is to sock it in the face with its own simplistic stupidity. And most important of all, raise a laugh. There are several comedy music videos on YouTube about Farage at the moment (albeit with limited hits): “Fab Farage: A UKIP Odyssey” set to the tune of Stan Ridgeway’s Camouflage, a “Topical Satirical Musical Spoof” to the tune of Parklife by Blur (amongst others)… and by far the most popular (with 14,343 views) “UKIP Hop” an extremely well-produced cartoon, rap video. These all satirise the ludicrousness. And make you chuckle too.

Bring on a few more I say… people love ‘em on Facebook.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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