A tweet is not a war

Director of British Future, Sunder Katwala, has posted an interesting twitter thread about whether the UK is undergoing a culture war.

One of the points he makes is that a great deal of culture war stuff in our media is manufactured by the media. For example, a few weeks ago there was a kerfuffle about the singer Adele’s hair: was it cultural appropriation? Most people couldn’t care less, but it was puffed up by a media that thrives on reporting conflict – and which will create conflict if there’s nothing to report. Katwala:

Almost nobody in Britain thought there was any issue with Adele’s hair. Broadcasters had to get some muppet from Philadelphia on to pretend there was a controversy.

This happens all the time, and it’s getting worse: some media outlets deliberately trawl social media for the most extreme opinions they can find and pretend that they’re representative of a wider group or movement. They file their non-story and the rest of the media picks up on it – so other newspapers will rerun the story and the BBC will get a bunch of people into the studio to discuss it. Cue endless column inches and broadcast hours about a movement that doesn’t exist.

Most of the time these supposed controversies don’t reflect public opinion, but people largely agreeing with each other doesn’t make for dramatic conflict on radio or TV. I know from experience that contributors to discussions are sometimes asked to take a particularly extreme point of view in order to make the debate more spicy (I’ve refused to do so; I’m not asked to go on those programmes any more). This is why contrarians get so much airtime.

So I’m not sure I agree with Katwala on this:

The media should be less credulous in reporting every tweet as if it reflects a movement

I don’t think much of the media is credulous; I think it knows exactly what it’s doing and it gets what Katwala brilliantly describes as a “sugar rush from platforming conflict, however trivial”. It knows that the voices it platforms are extreme. That’s why it platforms them.