Corbyn’s social media initiative welcome – but enforcement clarification awaited

In an initiative driven by party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has launched a new Social Media Policy document – and it’s one which will be studied eagerly by members who have seen supposed ‘abuse’ weaponised against the Left by Tories, the Labour right and their media supporters when most abuse seems to come from those very quarters.

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It’s a document of two distinct halves. One seeks to establish the principles by which Labour members and supporters should seek to conduct their social media interactions – and it’s difficult to find too much to disagree with:

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In fact, this blog considers it likely that most members will agree with its assessment that the influence of the Labour leader and his team can be seen very clearly in these principles.

Slightly less free of difficulty is the ‘National Executive Committee statement’ section. There is little to object to in statements such as:

A starting point for all our actions as members of a party and a movement is to treat all people with dignity and respect. This applies to all our dealings with people, offline and online.

Everyone should feel able to take part in discussion about our party, country and world. We want to maximise this debate, including critical discussion, as long as it does not result in the exclusion of others.

Harassment, intimidation, hateful language and bullying are never acceptable, nor is any form of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

However, where it deals with enforcement and discipline the document is more problematic:

Any member found in breach of the above policies will be dealt with according to the rules and procedures of the Labour Party.

There are at least three reasons for this.

Firstly, the word ‘any’ above will be welcomed by left-wing members but regarded with extreme suspicion. There is an absolute conviction among many members that over the almost two years since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, his supporters have been penalised for the most trivial reasons – but his opponents have been able to say whatever they wish with impunity.

That includes many ‘moderate'(!) MPs, with even the party’s deputy leader referring to pro-Corbyn members as ‘rabble’, ‘Trots’ and ‘entryists’, with ‘dogs’ and worse used unpunished by others.

If this policy is to be embraced as meaningful, it is essential that it is applied sensibly and, most of all, fairly, with right-wing abuse (far more common in spite of the media’s attempts to portray otherwise) disciplined as strictly as anything from the Left.

Secondly, the policy does not give any definition of ‘abuse’ (or of ‘trolling’) . Given the undoubted tendency of some right-wingers, safe – up to now – in the knowledge that their own actions were immune to censure by a largely right-leaning bureaucracy, to provoke, for example via the above-mentioned and certainly abusive ‘dogs’, ‘rabble‘ and worse in the hope of eliciting an angry reaction, clear guidance on what is or is not abuse is highly important.

The pattern of provocation-reaction-accusation was illustrated with wonderful succinctness last week by one Twitter user:


There will be nods of recognition by most SKWAWKBOX readers at this pithy encapsulation of the problems both of fairness and clarity described above.

The final and even more crucial question is this: how is the party going to enforce the rules and identify breaches?

Recent guidance issued by General Secretary Iain McNicol, revealed exclusively by the SKWAWKBOX, informed party staff that trawling members’ social media for disciplinary purposes constitutes a breach of the Data Protection Act (DPA), as indeed it does.

That being so, how is the party going to legally know what members are saying, let alone judge whether it constitutes abuse?

By its very definition, the ‘Social Media Policy’ covers online behaviour. Equally by definition, that means any abuse or alleged abuse is going to be in the very social media feeds that party staff and officers cannot ‘trawl’ without either breaching the DPA or obtaining the specific permission of each member to use her/his social media posts for the disciplinary purposes.

In other words, each member would have to say ‘Ok, you can use my social media to potentially suspend or expel me’.

The SKWAWKBOX has asked Labour’s HQ for clarification of how it envisages enforcing the rules and principles contained in the new policy, but no answer has been provided so far.

Welcome as the new policy initiative will be to the vast majority, for the peace of mind of members still twitchy about the perceived abuse of social media in the purges associated with the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests, that answer is absolutely essential.

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  2. I joined Labour Party because I wanted my voice to be heard but in my branch there was and is not opportunities to comment any local problems and issues whatsoever, only administrative strategy. As I was a new member I could not work how the branch meeting would work. Also it was very difficult atmosphere when I said that I joined Labour Party because Corbyn, even some laughter at me. Now you send this to me. So it is clear any discussion should take place at the branch meeting. Of course it is the way, probably the only way to tackle the problems, as most of the cases, that local problem is the national problem even groval. Hoping everything will work out which many people are frustrated about within the Labour Party and it’s system, should be democratic and respect each other.

  3. I would say that the strategy to “find” transgressors on social media would be by having members reporting each other – as happened far too often during the purges. It only takes one angry or disgruntled member to ruin many peoples lives. This type of discriminatory behaviour is like racism and disablism and misogyny, the outcomes are disturbingly similar for the victimised.

    I heard that Wales had far more suspensions and purges per head than anywhere, and that a disturbing number of challenges still yet to be heard. Is there any more information on that, if true, and the Wallasley and other suspensions? I really feel for those affected, they are gutted.

    The “self policing community” just seems rather Stalinist / Statsi like. Shame we are still thinking like this – it should never have happened in the first place.

    Most Corbyn supporters are indeed the most polite and try to follow Corbyns lead, but are human, and do have odd flames on line. Its inevitable, its normal, even embarrasing after the event, but shouldn’t be life changing. Making a career out of trying to undermine the mass of membership and the elected leader, however, remains disturbingly unchallenged by HQ.

  4. I don’t like any of this. It is not the Labour Party’s role to go around trying to censor outspoken opinions on social media. To me, it just sounds like another attempt to expel and disenfranchise the Corbynite left.

    We have legal mechanisms that are supposed to deal with hate speech and death threats. It isn’t a Labour Party issue. It is a matter for the police.

  5. Without a definition of abuse that’s accepted by all, this is meaningless. The distinction between forthright opinions, justifiable anger and mild rudeness, and abuse is a very important one. In the absence of any such attempt to set it out, it looks as though the NEC has the power to arbitrarily decide what is and isn’t abuse in any given case. What’s the betting they’ll decide that an ordinary member calling Neil Coyle a plank is abuse, while Alan Johnson calling anyone who supports Corbyn ‘narrow sectarian left that’s intolerant of others’ views’ and ‘reminds me of Militant in the 80s’, isn’t.

  6. 11. We will not deter left wing bloggers from joining the party by throwing them out if they truthfully report on corrupt, abusive Labour councils such as Wirral, who were seen to financially abuse learning disabled people, then sack the whistleblower and attempt to cover it up when rumbled.

    (I’m from Wallasey and my local CLP has been suspended for a year in similar circumstances – for telling truths that were inconvenient to the party hierarchy).

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