// 'I Have Working Class Friends' vs 'The Disgrace' of Imported Cheese: Social Media in the Tory Leadership Race - Social Songbird


Latest News


'I Have Working Class Friends' vs 'The Disgrace' of Imported Cheese: Social Media in the Tory Leadership Race

Image Credit: The Week

Boris Johnson resigned. After months of scandal, days of denials, and one confidence vote (with more threatened), he finally threw in the towel, and then the hounds closed into vye for a spot as his successor. Stars rose and fell as Penny Mordaunt and Nadhim Zahawi were nipped off at the finish line, and now here they stand, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, at the finish line, waiting for that fateful September day when one of them will step forward and become the UK’s next Prime Minister. It sounds like it should be a dignified and respectful race between colleagues, considering their history of working in Boris Johnson’s government together, and the fact that both of these figures are experienced politicians and intelligent adults. 

Well, it’s not. 

While on the surface the leadership race may look like a clean set of debates, when we dig into social media, it becomes more suspect. When we push past the official social media accounts, too, it gets even nastier. 

Let’s take a look.

It’s been well-documented that social media can influence politics. On this website, Lucy Thomas has looked at the political impact that influencers can have on Instagram, while Diana Owen from Georgetown University has looked at the effect of social media in Donald Trump’s election and misinformation during his presidency. Looking into Rishi Sunak’s social media campaign, we can see that politicians are well aware of this. 

A year ago, Sunak hired Cass Horowitz, the son of famed children’s author Anthony Horowitz, and a social media expert. While the timeline may make us suspicious - along with the polished videos and posts that came out in Sunak’s campaign just twenty-four hours after Boris Johnson’s resignation - this clearly speaks to a coordinated social media effort, and the evidence is right there on Sunak’s Twitter account. With the slick slogan Ready For Rishi, hashtagged and imposed upon all of his video clips from debates, it’s clean, composed, and clear. It’s professional.

It’s the unofficial bits that get a lot worse.

Sunak’s official hashtag is #ReadyForRishi (or #Ready4Rishi), and most of his campaign tweets are set out with that slogan, or a link to his website with the same name. His supporters have taken up the same hashtag, understandably, but they seem to have added some other slogans - and these slogans are pretty cruel about the other side. Forget polite debate: Liz Truss should never be Prime Minister (#NeverTruss), and Nadine Dorries is insane (#MadNads), with her allyship only confirming the assertions about Truss.

And that’s not all. Under the same hashtag, ‘Lizz’ (sic) ‘lacks the courage and intelligence’ to face up against Nicola Sturgeon on the issue of Scottish independence, while ‘Rishi’ is ‘assertive’, and won’t ‘shy away’ from confrontation. 

And it only continues. @Coconutinbahama writes that Rishi Sunak should be the next PM because he’s ‘the only one that has a support package for the majority’. Truss, however, ‘said sod all’ in their debate, and ‘waffled’. 

Now, surely something’s wrong here. Of course, Rishi Sunak can’t be blamed for the behaviour of his supporters under his hashtag, but there’s some really damaging and personally negative stuff under his slogans, which make it seem like he’s implicitly approving it. If someone can offset nasty, personal criticism with your snazzy slogan as a gesture of support, that’s a problem, right? Especially when you’re advocating respectful debate? Surely you should be reining your supporters in? 

But what if Sunak doesn’t want to do that? And what if his campaign team are counting on the sorts of things we see under the hashtags to feed their fire?

It isn’t just Sunak who’s guilty of this either. Liz Truss’ Twitter hashtags also house a lot of personal negative sniping at Sunak, from calling him a snake (with liberal use of emojis), to comparing him to the Brutus who stabbed Julius Caesar in the back in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Once again, we see personalised, nasty attacks under official campaign slogans – and once again we must ask, is Truss’ social media campaign counting on this unofficial electioneering? By letting this stuff be posted under her official hashtags, is Truss implicitly approving it?

Curious about this, I decided to look into the similar tactics used in the Trump-Clinton Presidential race in 2016. It’s been pretty decisively proven that Trump used Twitter bots for his victory in the Presidential race - although he has denied that he actively colluded with the Russian hackers who deployed them. The National Bureau of Economic Research actually concluded in a research paper (2018) that Twitter bots might have boosted Trump’s share of the vote by as much as 3.23%. 

And it wasn’t just bots that contributed to Trump’s victory. Both Royal Holloway and the Social Science Computer Review have found that free media - i.e. regular social media users - had a huge impact on Trump winning the election. Their use and promotion of official campaign hashtags, like #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, #MAGA, and #Trump2016, led to an increase in Trump’s presence online, which then led to further dissemination of his message, and his election. 

And I think this is where we need to ask a question: how far is this appropriate?

Of course, free speech is important and is something that thousands of people have fought for over centuries - including Salman Rushdie, author and activist, who was recently attacked on stage at an event after years of threats for his work. All of us have the right to express our opinions, and all of us can (although the expression of certain opinions does not come without consequences).

But, on a platform like Twitter, we find a bit of a problem when it comes to politics. When regular people are able to use an official campaign hashtag and place their own views alongside official campaign material from official accounts, that implies that their personal viewpoints are on the same level as official campaign tweets. And when those opinions agree with the official campaign tweets but add hateful language and sentiments, it implies that the campaign agrees with these, too.

So the question is, then, should official campaign hashtags on Twitter be allowed to be used by anyone? 

Let’s do a little thought experiment. 

Let’s imagine, for a second, that the internet doesn’t exist. Let’s imagine that the only way in which you can access an electoral candidate’s manifesto is through a huge book, held in a building somewhere, which holds everything in it. If you want to picture it, imagine a lectern, the type of thing you find in an old church, with the book in the middle, for all to access.

Imagine that this is the only way in which you can access this candidate’s manifesto. The other candidates have these books too. Once again, this is the only way you can access these manifestoes. 

Would we let anyone come in and scribble over the pages? 


So why do we let that happen with official Twitter hashtags? Why do we let this new platform for political campaigning be invaded by unofficial voices? Why do we let tweets that slip derogatory and negative language into political debate sit alongside discussions about economic reform and political posturing with equal merit? 

Free speech is important. That’s undeniable. But when it comes to anyone intruding on official campaign rhetoric? Sometimes, that’s problematic - and it has politicians like Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss benefitting from what is just plain nastiness. The nastiness that their sides have not condemned, and encourage by their silence.

Anna Coopey
4th-year undergraduate student in Classics at The University of St Andrews in Scotland. Keen writer and researcher on a number of topics, varying from Modern Greek literature to revolutionary theory. 
Twitter: @anna_coopey 

Works Cited:
When Nano and Micro Social Media Influencers Mix With Politics (Social Songbird) - https://www.socialsongbird.com/2022/07/when-nano-and-micro-social-media.html
The Past Decade and Future of Political Media: The Ascendance of Social Media (OpenMind BBVA) - https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/articles/the-past-decade-and-future-of-political-media-the-ascendance-of-social-media/
Twitter Bots Helped Trump And Brexit Win, Economic Study Says (Bloomberg UK) - https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-21/twitter-bots-helped-trump-and-brexit-win-economic-study-says
How Twitter Helped Trump Win The US Elections (Royal Holloway University Of London) - https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/about-us/news/how-twitter-helped-trump-win-the-us-elections/
Free Media And Twitter In The 2016 Presidential Election: The Unconventional Campaign of Donald Trump (Social Science Computer Review) - https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0894439317730302
Political Hashtag Trends: The Role of Political Hashtags to Influence People’s Mindset (Political Marketer) - https://politicalmarketer.com/political-hashtag-trends/
'I Have Working Class Friends' vs 'The Disgrace' of Imported Cheese: Social Media in the Tory Leadership Race Reviewed by Anna Coopey on Wednesday, August 17, 2022 Rating: 5
All Rights Reserved by Social Songbird © 2012 - 2024

Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Powered by Blogger.