You’ve probably heard of Britain First. On the surface they seem to be one of the biggest social media movements Britain has ever seen. Most of us will have encountered them on our Facebook timeline, probably through a picture of a dog or of a supposedly forgotten veteran shared by an unassuming friend (or a picture of an ‘invaded mosque’ shared by a less innocent and probably former Facebook friend). I noted their sudden rise to apparent prominence on Great British Politics two months ago, when they had gathered nearly 250,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. Now they have over half a million ‘likes’, their posts are everywhere, and it seems they are conning hundreds into giving them money by masquerading itself as a charitable organisation.
Despite their vulgarity and apparent size, we should NOT be worrying so much. Here’s why:
Facebook likes do not equal electoral success
Britain First were the biggest political party in terms of Facebook ‘likes’ at the time of the Local Council and European Parliament elections on the22nd of May. Though they only ran in Scotland and Wales, they were overwhelmingly beaten by all major parties. They were even comprehensively beaten by the British National Party – the hate filled racist party they split from.
This is the truth across the board, for example the British National Party themselves have considerablymore Facebook ‘likes’ than the Liberal Democrats. The British National Party barely received a vote; should local elections require deposits, they would have finally gone bankrupt. Yet the Lib Dem fall from grace still leaves them with the third most councillors out of any party and an MEP.
In Britain First’s case, this could partly be explained by the comments received on one of their May 22nd posts, urging people to vote. Some commented asking how to vote (presumably, many weren’t on the electoral roll and so could not), one asked what number you call to vote Britain First, and many commented from across the rest of the world – bringing us to the second reason why we shouldn’t worry about them.
Members of far right organisations across the world like their page.
The solidarity amongst fascists and bigots knows no borders. Americans, Poles, Australians and Scandinavians ‘like’ their page. Such people can be lumped in with those who comment on Daily Mail articles or YouTube videos telling us in broken English that Hitler ‘had it right’ or Nick Griffin is an inspiration.
American conservatives are unlikely to ‘like’ the British Conservative Party on Facebook, because they’re far too left wing for them. American liberal democrats are unlikely to ‘like’ the Liberal Democrats, because they consider it to mean something different. Members of labour movements outside of the UK are unlikely to ‘like’ the Labour Party, because it’s either too Marxist or not ideological enough. And how many people without extreme beliefs are likely to sign up for updates to a political party in another country anyway?
People sharing their posts are seldom aware of the damage they’re spreading
How often do you reckon someone sharing a Britain First post actually knows what they stand for? Their social media strategy is simple – viral populist posts after viral populist post. These posts usually contain absolutely no truth, and target anyone willing to believe absolutely anything they read on the internet.
Hence the flood of shares by your politically unaware friends, by internet amateur parents or grandparents, and by that one gullible idiot who’ll share anything with a picture of a dog on it. But how many of these will join the street fighting forces or donate money? How many of these people will ever know that they’re a political party? Very few.
We should all be aiming to take those who share Britain First’s posts to task, but the perceived overuse of the word ‘racist’ and the perceived outrage saturation of the politically engaged makes this ineffective. If you want to either change someone’s mind or teach them a lesson, you have to actually explain who Britain First are and why they shouldn’t share their posts.
At least 100,000 of their Facebook ‘likes’ have been bought from “like farms”
A Britain First insider revealed to me that Britain First have paid online for ‘guaranteed likes’ from disreputable companies. They have then received Facebook likes from fake accounts linked to these companies to the tune of over 100,000.
These are accounts not linked to people, accounts that are there simply to help scams seem reputable. Without the fake Facebook account figure, they may well be a tiny fraction of the size they claim to be.
None of this means that we shouldn’t be disgusted by Britain First. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t worry at all. A band of men with military equipment and uniforms running anti -Muslim patrols and starting ‘fight clubs’ is deeply worrying; imagine how worrying it would be if you lived in an area they target or how terrifying it would be if you were a Muslim in one of these are as. But they aren’t a group of half a million thugs, they are simply a fringe movement with a lot of artificial Facebook ‘likes’.