Andrew Sallis: There will be life after social media *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s hunting columnist reflects on the problems of click-bait social media in society

    I once had a summer holiday job sorting manuscripts for an internationally famous conductor, who lived on a farm owned by the hunt chairman, nestled in the Vale of Belvoir. He ran to type: old-fashioned champagne socialist with a ruthless streak.

    Wading through piles of orchestral scores one rainy afternoon, he announced to me, maybe prophetically, maybe provocatively, “There’s a touch of a fascist in everyone.” It certainly alarmed me and clamped itself to my memory.

    The political circle is a familiar trope, regularly exposed in hunt saboteurs. For all their left-wing anarchy and new age woke-ism, their tolerance of those with contrasting opinions is scant. They exist in a narrow political and cultural spectrum. The right to protest is well-known but largely abused. Does it encompass the myriad of other activities that hover beneath the criminal threshold: stalking, harassment, trespass, physical obstruction, verbal abuse, foul online vitriol?

    Their actions and behaviour are bolstered, justified, fabricated and recorded as unquestioned fact on social media. It becomes a self-prophesying circus. Our opponents revel in their Facebook “hit reports”, most of which are read by more hunt supporters than sabs. They even discuss the posts with hunt supporters through the day, often threateningly.

    The soap opera caricatures are stark – Emmerdale meets The Young Ones meets Downton Abbey. In the end, it’s all click bait, and cash flows readily into sab groups after each post from more passive keyboard warriors.

    Stepping back in time

    Huntsmen stepped back to the 1950s during hound exercise in lockdown. Country roads no longer rattled as commuter rat-runs but belonged to farmers and cyclists. Hounds were afforded freedom without concern.

    When traffic increased again, it didn’t have the drained, furrowed complexion of pre-Covid commuter. Drivers were genuinely delighted to see hounds, a reminder of the old order perhaps, and frequently reached for their phones to video or take a photo. Some even stopped for a selfie. But pre-Covid service is beginning to resume.

    For no apparent reason, other than merely being there, the occasional driver will feel empowered to hurl invective at a complete stranger. With the parameters of free speech in our learned universities and BBC being questioned, it is no surprise that members of the public see fit to offer incorrect and rude opinion to our face.

    The various hunting agencies have launched social media initiatives in recent times but fundamentally, our constituents are reluctant keyboard warriors, far too busy enjoying real life to get drawn into cyberspace.

    The Tory Party machine learnt from Corbyn’s close shave with victory in 2017. Labour’s campaign was largely fought online through social media; a sharp lesson to the Tories whose ruthless campaign in 2019 took cyber war to another level and won.

    I’m not sure we can achieve similar success; however, our skill-base is vast, and we can more effectively influence from within key organisations, local and national government and the wider media.

    I am not a retro-technophobe. But beyond an extremely effective means of communication and dissemination of information (not opinion), I have yet to be convinced that we are a kinder, more tolerant, intelligent and enterprising society with social media; self-indulgent and cruel, most certainly. And yet it swallows then spits out life with no recourse or remorse, certainly no apology when it’s blatantly wrong. It’s a succour to our internal “touch of a fascist.”

    Alarm bells rang when my 10-year-old son talked about his friend’s fixation with posting everything on TikTok, rather than just enjoying life. Such image obsession and self-consciousness in a child is petrifying.

    There will be life after social media. A more just and profound way to keep in touch with my old school friends and what they had for breakfast will evolve. Oh yes, I could speak to them, maybe even face to face. One day, hopefully we’ll be allowed to hug again.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 November 2020

    You may also be interested in…