The internet has allowed radical voices, like that of Noam Chomsky, to be heard by millions. This is having a real impact on our politics.
On election night, Andrew Marr stated that the main driving force behind the Labour surge was the use of social media in spreading Labour’s message across the country. I would go a step further and say it’s not just social media, but the internet in general.
Ten years ago, the internet was still in its infancy. Now it seems to be maturing and we are starting to see some positive effects on society. One crucial thing that the internet has provided us with is a greater diversity of opinions, which allows for more radical views, previously sidelined by the mainstream media, to be heard by millions of people across the country.
Perhaps the most influential of all those radical voices is that of Noam Chomsky. Fifteen years ago, I had never heard of Noam Chomsky and I doubt that any of my friends at university had either. However, that is certainly not the case with the students of 2017. The majority of them will have, at some point, seen a meme or a video featuring his views.
Chomsky’s views on war and Western foreign policy have proven particularly popular in the face of the usual aggressive views of politicians and journalists who push for military action (usually from the American government, with British support) whenever a situation gets heated.
Many people feel uncomfortable with such a stance during such times. So, when they are exposed to a more thoughtful critique of foreign policy, it often comes as a great relief and they enthusiastically click the ‘share’ button on Facebook or ‘retweet’ it on Twitter.
Many Chomsky quotes have gone viral and his interviews have had hundreds of millions of views on YouTube alone.
The Chomsky effect.
Chomsky & The Labour Surge
People who are politically active often cite Chomsky as an inspiration. I believe that Labour’s 10% surge at the General Election, in which the party gained three million more votes, is in part due to the likes of Chomsky.
Labour had far more activists during the general election campaign than in previous elections, with most of them out on the streets or on social media promoting the Labour message.
Many of these activists will have had much of their political education online, watching YouTube videos from figures like Noam Chomsky, Slovoj Zizek, Howard Zinn and others. This has equipped them with a more critical view of both the media and of capitalism, influencing their decision to join Labour and fight for a socialist agenda.
Meanwhile, the likes of the Daily Mail and The Sun ran with heavy smear campaigns targeting Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell. Their favoured strategy was to play the IRA card. While I don’t doubt that this had a considerable effect, it seems to have been largely confined to the older generation.
I believe the young have become a lot less trusting of the mainstream media. Their critical view of the media is in thanks to the influence of the likes of Noam Chomsky. Seeing his quotes and watching his videos, young people have been able to see the smear tactics for what they really are.
Tony Benn on the cover of Dartford Living, September 2009.
Tony Benn is another radical voice that the internet has helped to amplify. With the mass sharing on Facebook of his brilliant speeches in Parliament, he has become something of a cultural icon in recent years. His speech against the bombing of Iraq had over 20 million views during the #DontBombSyria campaign in 2015 and many of his other speeches can be found with hundreds of thousands of views.
So, whilst Benn was never Prime Minister, or even leader of the Labour Party, young people are now more familiar with his ideas than those of many previous Prime ministers, such as James Callaghan and John Major.
To conclude, the internet has led to radical ideas gaining more traction in wider society, particularly among the young, and this has lead to Labour experiencing a dramatic surge in the general election last week.
As Chomsky himself has written, the media are very not much interested in educating people as to how the system works. Hence, it is the internet that continues to break down the monopoly of propaganda that our mainstream media have enjoyed for so long, allowing more ideas and more knowledge to enter into peoples’ minds.