Daniel Reast on the #FBPE movement and how some online activists abuse other Remainers on social media, spreading ignorance and acting as real bullies.

Don’t look behind you, but there’s a thousand notifications on your Twitter account baying for blood in less than 280 characters. You may have only countered a few arguments or critiqued a message, but be warned — a pile-on looms. This tribal association has caused immense rifts in conventional politics, but for activism to work — it’s got to stay courteous and rational.

Browsing Twitter often feels like a never-ending battle between rational and enjoyable experience, and the kind of users that make your blood pressure rise. Arguments on the platform are a laborious Groundhog Day of repeated spiel. We all know the arguments. We all know the basic lines of the prominent campaigns. To be honest, constantly churning out “It was an advisory vote” or “All Tories are murderers” is entirely self-immolating. Who are the hashtagged haranguers trying to convince? They have read the book cover-to-cover a thousand times!

This clamour of noise is, in this article, referring to the #FBPE movement of pro-EU users. This doesn’t mean to say that every single member of the orchestra is playing the same song. In fact, most users are generally well-mannered and passionate about their political activism. But as at school, it’s the gobby shits who let down the whole class.

Twitter communities have recently developed and are formed of like-minded people (or bots — who knows these days?) to identify each other for mutual following, more effective online presence, and that all-important spirit of solidarity. As social media has now expanded to be a bizarre parallel world to the living breathing one, so has the political activism designed to promote its message.

Perfectly justified. Online communities are, within reason and legality, important structures of support and interaction for many people. The vast swathe of gaming networks are one example of how people connect through their shared hobbies and interests. All rather chummy really.

I mean, what did you expect Mike? 52-48% again?

But it’s the political message that concentrates these groups into brasher entities. The #FBPE (Follow Back Pro EU) community was established in 2017 by Dutch Twitter user Hendrik Klaassens to create a cross-nation platform for pro-Europeans. It has expanded into a broader political message, beyond the anti-Brexit core message and is now a firm identity for many Twitter activists taking on Brexit and the far-right.

While the group sounds very positive and almost liberating in its function, a small minority of impetuous users often attack criticism from outside their clique. This has extended even to users who have themselves worked to share and comment on the anti-Brexit message. A classic trope is “fake Remainer” suggesting that we were never that bothered by our future really – yeah sure, I’m a real honey-glazed gammon.

One prominent activist, for instance, has repeatedly attacked a number of users, in particular women who have raised issues.

This toxicity spreads further into the message of #FPBE. With Brexit’s omnipresence focusing largely on issues of migration and ethno-national identity, an alarming trend of xenophobia has been latently shared through the movement. Users are keen to wrongly assume that EU migration and freedom of movement is perfectly valid, while migrants from non-EU nations are a legitimate focus for concern. These takes may not be expressed through racist slurs or generalisations, but they are symptomatic of users who have assumed a superior position.

As I have uttered endlessly since I started bollocking Remain, it has to be all-inclusive. The pro-EU hotel doesn’t cater for half-board bigots – all migration no matter the origin must be embraced. So, claiming EU figures aren’t relevant in the Leave message, compared to those pesky non-EU buggers, is transgressing the core of what #FPBE should have formed. And sadly, even the more visible activists are spreading this ignorance:

When I wrote about Remain versus the Yellow Vest movement, I was met with a surprisingly warm response. However, one user, who shall remain nameless, accused me of attacking ‘his’ movement, going so far to call my article’s suggestions lies and slander. A cheeky block was highly deserved. It hasn’t stopped me from critically scrutinising the Remain movement, but the aggressive tweets certainly had an effect.

The biggest issue with #FBPE is in through these incidents, while being fairly sporadic, disappointing those who sympathise with its message. Seeing a rowdy user hashtagging all over the place plants a seed of despair, which only grows every time these pile-ons occur. Facepalms and sighs all round, I fear.

The inherent paranoia of some users is both disconcerting and unattractive to any wannabee ‘hastaggios’ out there. While I am allied to Remain and the pro-EU message, the moral superiority of certain activist voices is frustrating. I know of many people whose political path is aligned to the possibility of staying in the EU – but that doesn’t require a near-constant waterfall of damning evidence and assertions. To quote one angry activist, “The smugness of perceived immunity is a beacon of guilt and a target for the relentless gaze of justice.”

As we’re nearing the March deadline, the likelihood of a Remain revolution is getting weaker and weaker. This doesn’t mean one should lose all hope and jump in the canal. But perhaps it should adopt a reasonable approach that accepts criticism.

Toxic and aggressive attacks are inherently undemocratic and sinking to the level of thugs and bullies is never warranted. And for Juncker’s sake, let’s stop promoting an ignorant message on migration, yeah?

Hopefully I can stop taking blood pressure tablets then – though with possible medicine shortages, I may not have a choice.🔷

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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)

(Cover: Dreamtime/Khosrork.)