If any other posts or literature that isn't already on my blog from that time comes up, I'll post here.
Bill and Comrades on the EC.
I am writing to formalise my resignation from the post of Social Media Organiser.
I will lay out below my rationale for my social media policy and process and also the successes and problems SSP social media has had in the past three years I have been coordinating this.
I will also outline my reasons for standing down. I will also answer questions, privately, if I have not made my account clear enough. But From this point onwards, I will not be taking anything to do with the SSP EC or SSP social media (I have taken nothing to do with our website or our social media accounts since Friday).
I do not make the self deceiving claim I am objective. I always feel it is laughable when those on the left quote Marx or some principle doctrine to prove they are. Nothing created by people is objective, even “raw data.” This is my account. I will add send full personal discussions I have had with people as texts, Facebook messages and email threads if the EC would like to see them. Scott MacDonald also has access to “Chat” and other message logs. I was going to add these as attachments, but some of the files are huge and also I would have liked to edit out mentions of people’s names with nothing to do with any of what I will say below, but to be honest, I sat for two hours doing that and I hadn’t got a fraction of the way through.
I also apologise in advance for mistakes etc, I have been typing this in the rubble and disarray of my house as it is being renovated and also at the same time as trying to look after our very ill wee dog.
The sectioned headlines I have come up with are not in any specific order.
1 Social media policy.
My approach to social media has been guided by my immersion in social media from its crude forms back in 1983, when I first started working on computers, through the nineties through the development of the internet and through the late nineties and 2000’s when I took part in social media experiments and used the internet to converse, discuss, interact, debate etc with people across the world. I have written for various publications both on the internet and in the traditional media and back in the 2000’s I wrote an article for the Voice, urging the SSP to be an early adopter of such developments as Facebook and YouTube. When Twitter started, I created an account for the Campsie Branch and through that account, the SSP became involved in discussion again across the world. I also set up the SSP’s first foray into Youtube – and the account I created as one of the early adopters of the site, was given special “Director” status as we were producing and presenting political videos again one of the first political groups in the world to do so.
As someone who not only participates widely on social media, I am also someone who studies social media – relationships, flame wars, reach etc, are all aspects of social media I understand – and I also understand how social media seems to break down relationships – initially as people’s beliefs are challenged – but in the longterm, brings people together and can moderate behaviour and also ignite passions etc. Lawrence Lessig’s “Free Culture,” and Paolo Friere’s “Pedagogy of Hope” are two books that guide me and where part of my rationale while SSP Social Media Organiser.
Friere believes in education as something both teacher and pupil are seen as equals in a process. I fully believe that. I do so in my professional life as a teacher and as an activist in a Socialist Party. And in taking over the SSP social media mix (which had come to a halt under the previous social media/ web EC comrade) and in a much diminished SSP, I wanted to use social media to ensure our voice was loud across the net and also use it to empower new members and potential members.
With that in mind, after recognising his interest and skills at our 2012 conference, I first brought new member, Scott MacDonald to help me with our Twitter account and also chat to him about progressing our very diminutive reach etc.
I then brought other new members on board. Liam McLaughlan, Sandra Webster, Connor Beaton, Tommy Ball and others were all brought in and I would say that the experience of learning how to talk on behalf of a party with policies and constitution etc did help in their political development. (I will come to Tommy Ball later in this account).
Through introducing new people to our social media and through their help, we built a sizeable, respected and effective social media presence throughout the Yes campaign. There were mistakes – but on the whole, our social media campaign which through dedication of those involved was nearly 24 hour coverage across the net for nearly two years – was hugely successful. The weakest thing in the mix (and not something I was responsible for) was our website. The results in the social media campaign (and of course the superb series of public meetings we helped with (and advertised/ live tweeted and also had live streamed through contact and my weekly meetings with Kevin Gibney of IndyLivestream) was of course, the influx of people interested in the SSP during the campaign and of course the massive contact list we built on the Friday night after Thursday 18 september 2014, through the rudimentary website “give us your contact details” page. Unfortunately our website was not on par with the other parties who had the income from this interest straight away.
Over the past few months since being elected in October as social media organiser (and then social media and website organiser) I, along with Scott, have tried to address the shortcomings of our website. Scott has designed a “join us” page that has ensured we do get payment, and the look, responsiveness and the updates on our site are *coming* up to standard. There is a wee way to go with on that yet – but the first aim since May was to ensure new articles and content for the site at least three times weekly and archives showing our progression and history since the SSP came online there for interested parties to read.
2 Internal Chat
It became obvious after the indyref, we needed an outlet for members to come together online to discuss/ debate etc. This became immediate when new members began enmasse, to attack socialists like Keith Baldassara and Nick McKerrell for having different views on our decision to participate in the General Election (I class new members as those who came into the party since 2010 – because lots of them were/are unaware of history and the identities of those involved with our party in the past etc). The attacks across social media were despicable – but only happened because I feel, some new members did not know how to depersonalise argument and discussion. This does not excuse the attacks – no one should undergo attack like that.
Baldassara and McKerrell are passionate debaters, but know how avoid personalising argument – and it was embarrassing to the party that lots of our newer members did not seem to be able to do this as they launched vicious attacks on our ex party, founding members. It was during these attacks and because of these attacks, I created SSP Chat.
When I created “Chat,” I brought all of the people floating about on Facebook etc and was able to explain that we should not be attacking others publically like this. Certainly we can have different opinions and give reason for that. But to name call etc in the name of the SSP is unacceptable. The attacks subsided.
My intention was then to create a forum – but time constraints, and spending a lot of my time ensuring our twitter acc, facebook, some blogs I help with, the website was being looked at, helping to direct conversation etc - and knowing that the process should be done properly having went through the various previous SSP forums of the past – meant that this forum would have to be something for further down the line. In the mean time attacks etc were limited to people attacking each other on Chat, but not being out in the wild west of the WWW. This became important again when the Tommy Ball incident also came about (I will explain this down below). When Tommy, someone a lot of new members respected for his outspoken views online, and a party branch organiser, began attacking Frances Curran publically online, I was able to use Chat to tell people not to react to his nasty comments on Frances page. I also was able to use the Chat to ask people to show solidarity with Frances by sending messages to her Facebook.
My intention over the past few weeks was to close Chat down (as discussed with the National Secretary) and get our new forum up and running (as well as handing over complete running of this to moderators as huge amounts of my time are spent on helping moderate this dialogue and dealing with complaints). I knew that if we did not have a controlled space, scenarios like the attacks on Baldassara and McKerrell would repeat themselves.
I closed Chat down on Sunday 16th after giving a two week warning (my last act as SSP Social Media Organiser). I have left it to Scott and the Moderators who have been testing our new forum over the past few weeks to ensure it is up and running as soon as possible.
3 Tommy Ball
As I have said, I will supply chat logs etc if needed. What follows is an account of where all of them fit in with each other.
Last year, on the lead up to Christmas, just after an EC, Frances Curran texted me saying she had concerns about Tommy Ball, and she had been given information at work about concerning tweets regarding an SNP/ ex SNP member, George Laird. I recognised the name Laird, but I didn’t immediately realise from where. (I remembered later that Laird was someone who “trolled” the SSP account in the early days of me taking it over – constantly criticising the SSP etc).
At the same time Frances texted me I was on a Messenger group I had set up with those who were involved in our twitter account. Tommy Ball was one of them.
I asked the question, “Who is George Laird?”
Another comrade on this chat and also on the EC, then said, “You have been talking to Frances, Neil?”
The fact that George Laird was connected with something Tommy Ball had done was also divulged by another comrade on the social media list. So – contrary to accusations later during the resulting controversy, I can assure EC members, I did not reveal the connection between Frances and the accusations against Tommy Ball.
When I asked Tommy about this, he said all of that had been dealt with over a year previous. I related this back to Frances via text (at this stage not knowing what the allegations were).
At no time did I divulge to Tommy that Frances had been asking me, and only acknowledged it after others who had been approached by Frances about the same thing revealed it to him.
Tommy, on numerous occasions either took himself from our social media or I suspended him because of criticism of his tweeting style by EC, or because of his attacks on Kezia Dugdale (for which I was led to believe we as a party received a cease and desist letter?). On all occasions, he assured me he had learned his lesson and would not succumb to the same style of tweets (usually personalising debate etc).
During these times I came under attack from members of his then branch, Glasgow South. I received personal messages and also public attacks from young comrades in that branch in defence of Tommy and because they thought I was attacking their Branch Organiser. I spoke to Katie Bonnar a number of times on the phone about this (and Tommy’s attacks on Frances in his Branch and on our chat etc). A lot of what acerbated Tommy’s attacks on Frances and his intense dislike for her was the fact that just before the Independence Referendum, she rebooted the “Glasgow” branch of the SSP. This upset a few SSP members not least for its claim in its title that it was the Glasgow Branch. I spoke to Frances about this and helped her set up the social media accounts, and she suggested they were called “Glasgow Central.” I also set up an “All Glasgow Branches” Facebook account to try to help in ensuring all branches in the region had equal access to Facebook and came together, rather than bickered. Control of the twitter and Facebook accounts was given over to representatives of the branches. I stayed on as a “contributor” but did not use the accounts at all.
After Christmas, when the extent of Tommy’s attacks on George Laird were revealed to me, I phoned him and told him I would be removing him from the team. He assured me he would not go on the attack on social media etc.
At 2.30am that night, my phone buzzed. Ross Greer of the Green Party had texted me with the odd statement, “Hasn’t Frances had enough court appearances?” I texted him back asking what he meant and Tommy’s public social media attacks on Frances were related to me. I then asked on our “Chat” messenger thread that people refrain from commenting on Tommy’s attacks, and the next day I urged members to send messages of support to Frances via her Facebook, which quite a few did. Again I came under attack from some members of his ex- branch for “starting all of this,” and for “talking in riddles” etc. I did not feel it was appropriate that I relate the whole story to those individuals who attacked me as I felt this was something that needed to be dealt with by EC (and needed, as Frances said, to be properly dealt with).
I had numerous conversations about Tommy with the now SSP Party Secretary and with other prominent members of the EC.
On speaking to prominent members of our EC about Tommy, they agreed with me that trying to educate him and keep him on board was a good stance and indeed at branch level they had tried to do the same thing – but the last straw for everyone was the disgusting tweets he had sent to George Laird (or sent out in George Laird’s name in a “spoof account”) and of course his treatment of Frances Curran online.
4 The SLP
My view on “Left unity,” is as complex as the topic. Primarily I believe real unity – ie everyone agreeing on every point, will not ever, of course, happen. I do believe unity of sorts can be achieved by uniting behind a democratically decided programme. I believe the SSP’s programme was more or less come about through political engagement and through debate and discussion and agreement. I don’t believe the SSP is fully democratic, but I have always believed it was the best of a bad bunch of left parties in that aim.
With that in mind, I totally disagreed with the way that the SLP said it was going to try to form itself – ie, not by talking to organisations of the left, but by talking to individuals. This was made explicit in its statement some people signed online.
I also disagreed with how our newer members were targeted and told half truths about and by, this small band of people, most of whom I have worked with or spoken with over the years.
My biggest concerns however, were highlighted at conference. I don’t believe a genuine Left Unity can be brought about by deceit. Again, I refer to my comments about deceits that have happened in the formation of this new entity. Trust is everything – and there is huge distrust of individuals and processes throughout this process.
I believe Left unity and a real movement will only succeed when everyone is honest and is participating out in the open and a real acceptance of differing viewpoints, experience etc.
I really do not believe that has happened, and in fact having contacts who were part of the initial group and who were part of the RIC internal organising core, know that it hasn’t. I have related my concerns (and conversations with key members of the ISG/ RIC/ SLP) to people on the EC.
I was also concerned as Social media organiser that representatives of our party, before any negotiations with this small group had begun, were undermining our party negotiations. Proclaiming the SLP as the future, EC members placing SLP badges on their personal facebook and twitter accounts and also branch twitter accounts almost constantly tweeting without question – sometimes very dubious SLP articles etc as ones the SSP supported – made the SSP look weak and that what the small core SLP group had proclaimed they were going to do, as a “done deal.” The official SSP main accounts only put out SSP policy and agreed positions on this. Again, I was accused of being biased by this small group in Glasgow South (I think my refusal to retweet their constant SLP promoting tweets also wound them up. I did, however, on occasion when they tweeted something relevant to the wider party, copy the tweet and send it out without the references to the SLP).
Personally I agree, as some warned in May, that the past few months have damaged the new found credibility the SSP had fought tooth and nail for. Not least because of the constant attacks on people with a view outside the “SLP good; SSP dead” narrative that has persisted since before the referendum.
Having said that I do agree that the behaviour online of those on the “anti-slp extreme” has been as questionable – but the difference is that their view is NOT backed up by any official or official looking, SSP account.
5 Allan Grogan
The conclusions I have come to over the past few weeks are that sadly the SSP is in decline (hopefully in my opinion temporarily) and we should engage in the tentative Alliance as best we can. I felt the best way to ensure the extremes of the party came together were to help manage the narrative (alarm bells were sounded when a group of SSP folk hired a mini bus to go to NC and talked about fighting and disrupting).
Allan Grogan sent me a link to his article. I felt that regardless of what Ken and Colin and other “objective thinkers” say – this article bridged the gap between those who were hanging on by a thread in the party. Yes there were disparaging remarks in it – though not remarks that many members I have spoken with disagree with. As a matter of fact, some Pro- SLP’rs congratulated Allan publically on his Facebook feed for a great article.
I took the decision to publish this in order to calm some of those who were saying unreasonable things about the genuine attempts by those in the SLP; SLP/SSP and the SSP to try to create something new.
The outcome of this was the final straw. As I said above, I don’t believe the SSP is fully democratic. Colin fox has admitted this himself in a phone call with me when he spoke about the “leadership” – I was not included as an elected member of the EC in his talk of the “leadership” (I do not have a record of this conversation, but his words were, “Do you not trust your leadership?” I told him I wasn’t aware we had a leadership. This part of my account can be disregarded in the general scheme of things – but I wanted it on the record).
“The Leadership” – or parts of the “Leadership,” tried to contact me while I was in school last Friday, teaching we’ans. Either before, during or after these attempts, Ken and Colin also put pressure on Scott MacDonald – who was not elected as anything to do with our web/ social media – but who I ensure has access to all of these aspects as his dedication and skills are invaluable – to take the article down. I sent a message to him, during my class, to say, “Let me deal with it.” Before I got the chance, the pressure on Scott was so much that he took the article down. The “Let me deal with it,” from the elected Social Media Organiser was over ruled by Scott’s mistaken, but understandable, perception of “The Leadership.”
For me, this was the last straw, as were the dreadful messages on the EC thread (and personal messages from an EC member I will also share with EC if called for).
6 Comments on EC about our Social Media.
Regardless of our massive social media successes, throughout my terms as Social Media Organiser and subsequently, Web coordinator, the EC have never congratulated me or the team for the mammoth effort we put in. The only times we are mentioned if there is a mistake. “Shambles, “disarray” are some of the words that have been used by the perceived leadership of the party on EC to describe a social media campaign that was copied by most of the major political parties. A social media campaign that got our name out to millions of people. And engaged with thousands in conversation. As most of the social media team were on the EC – this has meant a reluctance to “put themselves out there” and our twitter account has been kept dripping along over the past few weeks by Scott and I.
The “disarray” and “shambles” at times referred to the mediated and moderated “Chat,” in which some people, including moderators I had to speak to, could not tolerate differing views from them (to the point where Katie Bonnar, acting as a “moderator” shut down conversations on SLP, Sheridan and the OBFA). Some could not tolerate the fact my views were different from them, so I was attacked both in personal messages and on Chat. Four member of the Glasgow South Branch have said to me in public messages and private messages that as I had only won by two votes at AGM, they would not be taking guidance from me (and some of the tweets that they were putting out as their SSP branch directly contravened our positions on things – and at times made us into a laughing stock – eg the infamous “Westminster is funding ISIS” tweets that came from their branch).
I met Bill Bonnar twice about Glasgow South and their attacks on me. He said he would speak to them.
On the second time I met him just before the last NC, he said he would deal with them. He dealt with them by congratulating them at NC. This was a huge kick in the teeth. They were “guilty only for building the SSP.” The comments of shambles and disarray aimed at me and my social media team were different of course. We must have been acting at all times against the party. This is the only logical conclusion.
7 Our trad media policies etc.
Our party and any left organisation we are part of have a huge problem when “the Leadership” is made up of people who look down upon or do not understand the 24 hour, 60 minute an hour, second by second changing and demanding new news cycle. Our Party does not understand it.
I asked on many occasions for press releases on aspects of the news cycle. We set up a very underused “press release blog” and twitter account. I was told that there was no point because the newspapers rarely took up our releases. This shows a real lack of understanding of social media. Tweets we put out go to an audience of many more than read the Morning Star, The Herald and the Scotsman put together. An archive of positions on various aspects of the news, shows we are relevant etc REGARDLESS of the whims and political acceptances of the traditional media. Our facebook page has a reach of sometimes over 25000 a week (on average it hits around 17k a week). Our podcast had an audience of around 4000 an episode and live streamed events can get into four figures.
Hopefully the party changes this and a team of political savvy news dissectors, disseminators and mediators is created AND the international committee release statements on various aspects of international news.
Also, in my opinion, the EC really need to have policy broken down to having spokespeople for each main aspect of UK/ Scottish policy.
All of this needs to have a relationship with social media that ensures we are relevant across the many thousands of people and organisations who follow us.
After a lot of reflection on all of this, I am standing down. I did my best to try to ensure the SSP social media accounts were cohesive. Some of this cohesion was thwarted by some members of EC and branches. Again, chat logs can be made available.
I did my best to ensure the SSP message and policies were tweeted and promoted. I did my best, regardless of my personal view, that all views were taken into account (but our negotiations with ISG etc were not hampered by early (ie before negotiations conclusions etc) adoption and promotion of something most of our members knew nothing about etc). I tried to ensure SSP tweets/ facebook or SSP facebook posts were not peppered with personal views of those who were tweeting. I tried to ensure all views within the SSP were represented on my teams – people I passionately disagreed with were on the team, as well as people I agreed with. I disagreed with both extremes (those anti SLP and those totally pro SLP) – but as outlined at conference, briefly, it is well known that I had huge doubts about the processes towards an alliance – and still do. I tried to gender balance- and in fact wanted this post to be gender balanced, but some on the “Leadership” thought that was not something we as a party should go for. SSP members and my digital team did become despondent about the fact that we were never told about new developments in negotiations, yet some SLP (and some close to the negotiating team) received updates through text etc – and announcements about the negotiations came exclusively from the SLP website, twitter and facebook accounts.
I have had MANY sleepless nights after online attacks on me and the party, and over what has been going on online in the name of the party I have been part of since early 2003 (and supported before that).
As an aside, personally, I am still not confident that this new Alliance will make any inroads next May, or subsequently. I was fully of the belief the building we had worked hard to do during and after the indyref would ensure an SSP MSP, who would go into the Parliament with a full programme and party at their back. I HOPE I am proved wrong, I genuinely do. My doubts, of course, should not get in the way of people trying. I do think some of their efforts have got in the way of SSP success.
I am going to fall back into my branch and continue with the brilliant work SSP Campsie/East Dunbartonshire have done in building our profile locally and with the other parties and local organisations over the past sixteen years. And I hope that through our continued local endeavours, we return at least one Councillor – an SSP Councillor, in 2017.
I wish the EC and whoever takes on the task of Social Media for the party, all the luck and comradeship in the world (and anyone taking up the post is welcome to contact me). And I welcome PRIVATE questions – I will not be answering questions across threads.