In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Bianca Jagger sent a very unwise tweet.
Jagger had been railing against the coup against Corbyn – and the fact he may not make it onto the ballot for an upcoming leadership election – on her feed for several days, and at around 4am this morning she followed it up by linking to a list of MPs who had voted for the Iraq war. She urged her followers to “read it carefully, understand why they want @jeremycorbyn out.”
And yet Jagger now claims she didn’t read it “carefully” enough herself: the list is hosted on the site Metapedia, known for its white supremacist and neo-Nazi content, and included “notes” on each MP including “open homosexual”, “Jew”, “negro”, and “married a Jew”.
She deleted the tweet later in the morning, and has now posted an apology on her feed, admitting she didn’t read it properly:
I’m terribly , sorry for posting a despicable tweet by mistake, I posted it at 4.15 in the morning and didn’t properly read its content .
— Bianca Jagger (@BiancaJagger) July 12, 2016
Major left and right wing figures have understandably jumped on the tweet, especially given the irony now apparent in Jagger’s patronising tone. Yet it does seem likely that it was a genuine mistake: Jagger is a human rights campaigner, and even if she had secret leanings in this direction, she would know it wasn’t in her interests to share them publicly.
But that still leaves the question: where did Jagger find the page? Google “MPs voted Iraq war” and the page does come up, but at the bottom of the first page of results (if searched incognito). This implies it’s far more likely she saw it posted by someone else, then blindly reposted it without checking its content.
A quick Twitter and Facebook search implies this is probably the case. Before the furore around this morning’s tweet, the link was tweeted out by users fairly regularly in the days after the Chilcot report was released. Sometimes they tagged in specific MPs who were mentioned. It’s a similar story on Facebook.
Were some of these people posting in error? Probably, yes. But one post on the group “We Support Jeremy Corbyn” caught my eye, as it included both the link to the list, and a comment in the body of the post which called Margaret Hodge “devious” and a “Jewess”. This person had looked at the list’s slurs, and posted it anyway. I checked the comments, and found none. When the same user posted it to her own wall, only one person commented: “Bravo for telling the truth!” The We Support Jeremy Corbyn group currently has 19,000 members.
The post is, to put it lightly, chilling – it doesn’t prove that even a single other group member also thinks in that way, and it probably means that many didn’t properly read the post, or its attached link. And yet out of those thousands of users, where were those who should have called it out? Is it too hackneyed to ask why the good men did nothing? Not least at a time when Corbyn is forced to defend the Labour party against charges of anti-Semitism.
This kind of content, posted either in error or with malicious intent, is as dangerous, and telling, as the fact that lies about the outcome of Brexit spread so easily through the Leave camp. It’s clear that what we could call “scum” rhetoric – the increased tendency to dismiss your political enemies outright as disgusting liars or traitors – edges, at its worst, into a passive acceptance of lists denouncing MPs on the basis of their religion, race, or sexual orientation. Echo chambers allow prejudice to swell unchecked, if no one inside them speaks out.
The past few months of political discourse has shown that political groups of all leanings, both online and off, are increasingly factional. Within their bubbles, they goad each other into believing lies, slurs, and can easily cross the line beyond acceptable political debate. They are, of course, helped along by partisan media sources happy to publish half-truths to suit their readers’ beliefs. Those on the left angry with the “ignorance” which may lead us out of the European Union would do well to look a little closer to home.