Sociologist, Local Councillor, Activist from Malta

Monday, May 28, 2018

Mind your language - Michael Briguglio


Times of Malta, 28th May 2018

In the crossfire of debates within the public sphere, it is common practice to indulge in aggressive remarks against the political adversary without being reflexive or careful about the quality of one’s own discourse.


There are obvious examples of this. For example, it is crystal clear that an army of online trolls is being mobilised against critics of the government. In reply to critical Facebook posts, they often resort to offensive language to vilify the messenger rather than the message. This may intimidate some people into succumbing to social media silence, but I am not sure that Labour is scoring political points otherwise.


At the same time, I think that self-reflexive political and civil society actors who do not resort to trollish tactics should themselves verify if and whether their own message is hitting home.


Indeed, sometimes I get the feeling that many of us are too busy to justify our cause to have time to carry out sober self-examination. The 2017 electoral result and the quasi-exclusive anti-corruption demographic are two clear cases in point.


Indeed, I often get the feeling that the capturing of media attention for the sake of it is sometimes preferred to the longer road of substantive impacts for social change. Yet the media is itself a social bubble, and trust in this institution has declined in recent years.


While I think that this is a very worrying trend, I also believe that media actors should resort to self-examination. If we think that people’s consciousness is simply a result of media reports, we are only fooling ourselves.


The same holds for likes, shares, re-tweets and other tools that inflate egos within the social media. Do we ever realise that algorithms tend to focus our posts to like-minded readers within ‘ghetto bubbles’? Do we realise that very often we are talking to narrow audiences within Facebook?
The same holds for the demographic of people – including myself – who attend protests on matters such as good governance. As a sociologist, I immediately sense that though this constituency is significant, it is not representative of Maltese society as a whole.


Besides, the basic fact that certain protagonists never use the Maltese language to communicate immediately isolates them from many audiences. I am also wary of doomsday prophecies that assume that Malta is facing imminent collapse. It is true that the sustainability of Malta’s economy deserves tough questioning, but inflated comments can ultimately implode and unwittingly do a favour to one’s adversary.


It would also be very easy to label people who vote Labour or who do not attend anti-corruption protests as being stupid, egoistic, and partisan, but I think such an analysis is very limited. To begin with, a sizeable amount of such voters voted otherwise in previous elections and referenda, and they were not considered to be deficient back then.


Besides, different voters may have different motivations, and not all of them have to do with negative factors such as corruption. It could well be that in certain instances the anti-corruption forces are not convincing despite being active for the right cause.


Hence even though I believe that Labour managed to seduce a significant number of voters to support it in return for favours and corruption, the Labour majority cannot be reduced to this singular factor.


If the Nationalist Party wants to be in government, it must also win voters for whom good governance is not the be-all-end-all of politics. This does not mean that it should become a photocopy of Labour: and there is no indication that this is the case anyway.


The PN should form a national coalition of its core voters, the good governance constituency but also floaters whose ultimate voting choice is more flexible.


In this regard it is imperative to articulate inclusive, non-patronising discourse that focuses on the myriad of everyday issues which people experience and which are in synch with Nationalist core beliefs such as solidarity, dignity and subsidiarity. 


Amid the online frenzy, I appeal to voices of goodwill, whatever their political orientation, not to be dragged down to a level that resorts to exaggerations, alternative facts, fake news and insults. Self-righteous pontification should also be avoided. Truthful news is imperative, but so is the way it is communicated.

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