britain: bullshit masters of this weekend

This week’s biggest Twitter controversy? Jo Swinson’s squirrel problem
Joel Golby, Independent, Nov 21 2019

Jo Swinson estimates the size of the squirrel that got away.
Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Never are the world of the dead and the world of the living as close as they are on Halloween: two realms, divided by a tissue-thin spectral net curtain. Ghosts wander lost over misty battlefields. Skeletons rattle in their graves. Then, once the moon dips and the sun rises, all is quiet again for another year. What I am saying is: this week we had a sort of Halloween of our own here, an electoral equinox. The slim void between the world of the living and the world of the online was briefly breached, and chaos did reign. Shitposters walked the land. The living became them. And then: all quiet. Of course, we have to discuss the most significant controversy to date in this election: the fact that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has been accused of squirrel murder. I cannot tell you how much joy it brings to me to write that sentence, because this is a story that has been rumbling on Twitter for a while: that Jo Swinson, a sort of turbo prefect who keeps threatening to cancel Brexit by nuking Europe so hard it doesn’t matter whether we’re in or out of it, has a secret passion for killing squirrels, whether by slingshot or by stomping or by running them over with her campaign bus.

How am I to explain to you, a civilised person, that someone online concocted a bit entitled “Jo Swinson kills squirrels,” and then mocked up a screenshot of a Mirror story with a preposterous byline (“by Wurrence Telephene”) that explained in detail that Jo Swinson kills squirrels? Then a whole faction of online jokers followed up with more fake stories about Swinson’s violent and historic hatred of squirrels and photoshopped squirrels lying prone under the wheels of Jo Swinson’s bus. It was all fake, and this is dangerous and deranged, but also hilarious. How do I explain that to you, a normal person? How do I explain that that is something that is happening? But then Jo Swinson talked about it to LBC and now we can talk about it, here, out in the daylight. Asked by smirking presenter Iain Dale what she thought about squirrels, Swinson replied unconvincingly “I like squirrels,” before going on to denounce the “very fake news” of memes about her killing woodland creatures with a shotgun. But not before making a deliciously agonising two-second thinking-out-loud sound, the sort of ah–ah–ah noise you make when you’re forced to tell the British media you don’t cull animals for fun without being properly briefed about it first. She said of the bizarro stories invading politics:

They’re quite sophisticated, and people do believe them.

Did she explicitly refute the claims that she kills squirrels? She did not. So, for my money, until Jo Swinson releases an explicit statement saying she doesn’t want to launch a nuke simply to destroy all squirrels, she’s still got their thin red blood on her hands. Big week for it, though. As you’ll know by now because of The Controversy. Verified Conservative Campaign Headquarters Twitter account @CCHQ briefly changed its handle to FactCheckUK during the debates and tweeted, in real time, stats to support Boris’s on-air claims and denounce Corbyn’s at the same time, under the guise of an impartial information thinktank. The stunt led to a lot of discussion – so, so much discussion – a lot of handwringing and a formal warning from Twitter, with claims that this was a sophisticated act of subterfuge straight out of the influential Russian bot playbook. Only … I mean, it wasn’t, was it? Changing your screenname, profile picture and header photo briefly to embody the spirit and soul of a completely madeup organisation is actually a tactic taken straight from the pro-squirrel/anti-Swinson shitposters, and is about as elegant and graceful as me trying to put my socks on standing up. The CCHQ to FactCheckUK disguise was as flimsy as Superman putting a pair of glasses on to become Clark Kent, and in that I think there is some deep truth to it: that, by causing calculated outrage during the debates, CCHQ managed to take all the post-TV discussion away from what was actually said on screen and instead make it about the calamitous disinformation campaign attempted by it. It was, truly, bad for a reason, and we fell for it hook, line and sinker. Look, I’m falling for it now. Fuck. Maybe they are as smart as Russian bots.

‘Putting a gang together.’ Dominic Raab
Photo: Andrew Fosker/Rex

There are only three men in the world who truly, chillingly terrify me: Martyn Ford, a Terminator-esque Instagram bodybuilder who looks like every bouncer on Earth formed together into a Mecha-Bouncer who, instead of just telling me politely I’m not getting into Fabric with those shoes on, instead bites my head open like a crisp fresh apple; Brock Lesnar, a WWE athlete-turned-UFC fighter who got a sword tattooed down the front of him in a way that very much suggests he is an ancient warrior reincarnated in the body of a powerful, feral animal; and Dominic Raab, who isn’t hard per se, but truly exudes an energy that suggests whenever he encounters police officers at a gala event, he spends hours interrogating them about the best way to do headlocks and “how to punch someone, but only bruise them on the inside.” Good to see him struck sweet like a baseball, then, by Scram News, which, seconds after Raab went on BBC Breakfast to say, “Nobody gives a toss about social media” in the afterglow of the debates that saw the aforementioned CCHQ snafu, found that in his failed leadership campaign earlier this year, Raab had spent a reported £56k on Facebook adverts, running 112 in total. 52 were taken down by Facebook for breaching its almost non-existent advertising policies. You may argue that that sounds a lot like the actions of someone who gives a toss about social media. I see it as something altogether more terrifying: Dominic Raab scouring Facebook for friends with common interests, disregarding votes altogether. “Dominic Raab is targeting ‘Tactical Knife Owners’ in your area.” That sort of thing. He’s putting a gang together. They’ve all got camo on, and bring their own guns to paintball, and know how to wire doorhandles up so they electrocute you.

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