I will never understand the mentality of blocking. I’m referring to Twitter, incidentally, so if you’re working class or if you have a full-time job, if you drive a bus or operate a crane on a building site, if you’re connected constantly to life rather than to social media, then you can be excused from reading this article. But for the small, underemployed section of the bourgeoisie whose existence is an endless diarrhoea of microblogging, then blocking is a big issue. Do you block your fellow abusive and gratuitous tweeters, or do you not?
I do block. The tiny number of followers of the Tychy account is periodically thinned even further because I like to cultivate the impression that I am read by an intellectual elite. Occasionally, anybody who is lacking in the necessary dazzle is quietly escorted from the premises. But this isn’t really blocking – it’s reputation management.
On New Year’s Day, Iain Macwhirter, batting for the Herald, suggested that politicians and journalists should take a Twitter detox in 2016. He was criticising those public figures who “exploit anonymous comments on social media for political purposes” and wear this abuse as a “badge of pride.” He had this to say on blocking:
I used to think blocking people on Twitter was somehow contrary to the etiquette of social media, but it isn’t. Now I block with abandon anyone who says anything abusive – always making sure to retweet the abuse so that everyone knows why. The retweet is a record of the offensive remark.
With this, it is over to the underground goblin king of the trollish legions. I mean, of course, the inestimable Reverend Stuart Campbell, who fronts the leading Scottish nationalist website Wings Over Scotland. Campbell served up a chaser to Macwhirter’s article, which outlines Wings’ own “hair-trigger blocking policy.” The resultant blocklist “is about 2500 strong.” Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, I discovered when trying to retweet a Wings article last year that I am on the list. This rather spoiled my awesome feeling of transcendental generosity at being for once in sympathy with a Wings article. Everything about the blocklist became clearer after the certificate had arrived. We each get a certificate and we’re also invited to an annual Christmas lunch at Bath’s town hall.
Campbell urges his legions to “merge” Wings’ blocklist into their own Twitter accounts “using the simple steps below, and suddenly you’ll be blocking all the people we block.” For here is the philosophy behind Campbell’s blocklist:
Everyone on this site who uses social media will be well aware of a slew of figures on the opposing side with whom there is no point whatsoever in attempting to have a debate, so we won’t dignify them here by listing them. No amount of persuasion or evidence will change their minds – inconvenient facts are ignored, arguments are bodyswerved with semantic hairsplitting, hours and hours are wasted with nothing to show for it but more anger and bitterness.
I’m not sure that you can actually bodyswerve with hairsplitting, though it sounds so dynamic that I might still file this one away for my own future writing. Nevertheless, you can no doubt see where I am going with this. On a literal level, the Reverend offers an innocuous description of blocking, but it really acquires wings as a perfect reflection of the current political tribalism in Scotland. For Campbell, there is another side, rattling their spears across the river, and that side is senseless, inexplicable, impossible to persuade, essentially dehumanised. To say that they are not part of the club would be to use inappropriate Enlightenment terminology. Instead, they don’t swing with the tribe.
I was increasingly tempted to join the Wings blockers myself. It would give me a tribal glow, a sense of identity greater than anything that I have in my own life, a steamy feeling of togetherness. But I would have blocked myself, of course, and then my laptop would have melted.
They are not all Unionists, Campbell adds cleverly. A sacrificial portion of nationalists has been designated to be as impure as the Unionists and they have been blocked as well.
Thank goodness that Twitter exists, otherwise there might be militias running amok outside on the real streets. I start to get nervous every time there is a power cut. These people have already done so much of the existential groundwork for a genocide and now all we need is for Twitter’s prison doors to malfunction and release them all into reality.
Tychy has persistently maintained that Scottish nationalism is increasingly unintelligible as a political project and that the hidden logic which holds it together is unnervingly tribalist. On the plus side, this also accounts for the treacherous buoyancy of the nationalist movement. Why, here we are on Twitter and everywhere we turn there are voices in agreement with us. We only have to utter any statement and there is an immediate and vociferous chorus of agreement. Underneath Campbell’s own article there are (at the time of writing) 206 comments which are practically grovelling in their gratitude and conformity. Meanwhile, the voters don’t seem to be hanging around.
Perhaps if you find yourself part of a social media tribe then something is going wrong. I read a broader warning for the future EU Leave campaign in the Reverend’s blocklist. Industrial blocklisting, or an addiction to blocking time-consuming complaints, can slip imperceptibly into fortifying the echo chamber. The Leave campaign should never have any consciousness of its size or its limits. It should be constantly expanding and reaching out to pluck a string in every human heart. And to do this it will have to wade through a great deal of abuse as well. At times the slime might even reach ankle level. So what?