Cyber Kippers – Farage’s Online Headache

Olly Neville March 12, 2014 13
Cyber Kippers – Farage’s Online Headache

Olly Neville highlights the self-defeating conduct of UKIP activists on social media.

Anyone who has met Nigel Farage knows that he isn’t a racist, xenophobe or any other dismissive label you care to apply. So too with much of UKIP’s top brass, which includes a significant number of women who are present on merit rather than through any positive discrimination.

Whilst many will dislike UKIP automatically for their policies on immigration or the EU (the two consistent standpoints the party has after a few years where their policies have seemingly see-sawed on many issues), their message has the potential to resonate among many areas of British society, from the southern middle-class to working-class northerners. Farage may be divisive, but he has the personality and charm to attract not just votes but media attention and friendship: even from those diametrically opposed to what he stands for.

However, the media charm and nuanced arguments don’t travel too far down the chain. UKIP has a problem that eats away at its support amongst much of the media, especially those who should be sympathetic – The Cyber Kipper. Just as Alex Salmond’s Anonymous Army rips into anyone who dares disagree with Scottish Independence, Cyber Kippers (better name pending) launch aggressively into attacking anyone who criticises their party.

Cyber Kippers (better name pending) launch aggressively into attacking anyone who criticises their party.

The comments section of the Telegraph and Conservative Home have long been over run by those with an (obsessively) pro-UKIP vision, but few read below the line after all. The real problem is the emailing, tweeting and general messaging of journalists who choose to criticise UKIP; Cyber Kippers seem to think that such people need to be corrected, insulted or put down in any way possible.

This sort of thing isn’t limited to those who regularly attack UKIP. Broadly pro-UKIP individuals and organisations who choose to run a criticism or advice piece for the party are liable to come under fire. The concern for Farage isn’t huge – after all, the majority of voters won’t see these people and much less care. But they do have an impact. He was forced to back-peddle after his comments on Syrian refugees sparked thousands of angry comments on his party’s Facebook page. Furthermore they impact the view of UKIP from journalists and the media. Like it or not, media coverage is vital for shaping the public’s views of a party and winning them support. UKIP’s own popularity rose to around 20% after a period of strong media attention and has dropped to around half that level as media interest has cooled. Journalists are less likely to write UKIP-leaning stories if they come under a barrage of fire for any minor negative comment towards the party. The vicious cycle of negative story, attack, negative story can drive even sympathetic journalists to become exasperated for want of an easier life, and hardens any views against party members that the media might have.

Journalists are less likely to write UKIP-leaning stories if they come under a barrage of fire for any minor negative comment towards the party.

UKIPpers online might see themselves as valiantly fighting battles for the party, but more often than not they do more harm than good, with over-the-top comments that leave them open to ridicule and an angry defence of their party that turns people off rather than warms them to UKIP. When any reaction to humour or criticism is hostile and humourless, UKIP’s version of the ‘cybernat’ does their party as much harm as the careless slip-ups of their candidates and councillors. Patrick O’Flynn was right when he cautioned members at the recent spring conference: those that think they are helping the party are more often than not doing it a grave disservice.

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