After an entirely permissible weekend off, I’m back.
Before remembering I was too lazy, I wanted to talk about the Daily Mail. And, your inevitable nausea at reading those words notwithstanding, I’m going to give it a try now.
The Twitter account @polljack exists, as the name suggests, to hijack internet polls. The guy behind it, Chris Coltrane, has the Daily Mail newspaper particularly in mind as a target, and it’s true that the Mail’s website does ask its audience a large number of poll questions which deserve to be skewed heavily in a non-appalling direction by a bloc of mass voting.
The creation of @polljack was prompted by a Richard Littlejohn article about what he found objectionable in the NHS protocol for treating “gipsies” (I genuinely have no idea if that’s an offensive term, or spelt incorrectly, or whether referring to them as “members of the mobile community” would be patronising, so apologies if I’m getting it wrong one way or the other). It was a predictably obnoxious piece, essentially full of reactionary grumpiness at the idea of anyone from a demographic other than his own being treated with similar decency, set in a strange imagined world in which some conspiracy exists in this country to keep the white middle-class Englishman under heel.
Anyway, the article was accompanied by a simple yes/no poll that readers could vote on, asking Should the NHS allow gipsies to jump the queue? Which is a frustratingly loaded and over-simplified question, in which a “No” answer is clearly expected, but which implies agreement with the entirety of Littlejohn’s outrage.
So, @polljack took offence, got to work, and suggested that people voted “Yes”. By the time the poll was closed, “Yes” was up to 93% of the vote.
This was A) funny, and B) an effective way of making the point that not everyone is going to side with casual racism just because of the leading way you phrase the question.
There’s been some discussion recently, though, on just what @polljack’s role should be, and which polls it should attack. For instance, there was another Littlejohn article recently about torturing terror suspects, with the accompanying question: “Is it acceptable to torture terror suspects?”
Now, first of all, the correct answer is “No”. I’ll give you that one for free.
Secondly, even if the answer were more complicated than “No”, or if you wanted to explore the issue in more depth, appreciating that there are many complex issues at play here, you’re not actually making the insightful point you think you are by asking “How should we grill terrorists – with a cuddle and a cup of tea?”
Seriously. The sole counterpoint to “torture” is not “cuddle”. You are not helping to highlight a genuine dichotomy here. You’re making plain that you have no idea how this discussion actually works. You’re greatly over-simplifying things, but in the polar opposite direction to the way anyone with a functioning cerebellum would choose to over-simplify things.
Your rhetorical tactic amounts to “People who disagree with me love terrorists and want to cuddle them, therefore I’m right and those scum deserve to have their testicles electrocuted off”. All it takes is one person to disapprove of torture and yet somehow take a less ludicrous position than that of “More tea, Osama?”, and you look like an idiot.
Perhaps worryingly, the “Yes” vote was winning in answer to the torture question before @polljack got involved – but it currently stands 63% against.
But this isn’t proving the same point as the poll about gipsies. That landslide vote was a direct rejection of the premise of the question. It had been set up so that “No” was supposed to seem like the only sensible answer, but “allowing gipsies to jump the queue” is a complete misrepresentation of the NHS’s position anyway, so the intent was to make the poll look as silly as it clearly was. And it worked.
But with the torture question, they’re just correcting the answer. Whether doing these things is acceptable is a real question, with genuine opinions on both sides. Jacking it makes a very different point.
It’s still a point worth making, of course, and I guess I agree with Chris Coltrane’s rationale for targeting the polls he does. I don’t think there’s any significant criticism to make about giving the Mail extra publicity – the project’s not really going to make a dent in their average daily visitor count.
The only other real objection I recall is that leaving the poll alone allows it to highlight what terrible views Daily Mail readers hold. But I’m not convinced that a depressing poll result really reflects Daily Mail readers as a group any better than the contents of the articles in the Daily Mail itself. And we can infer what Richard Littlejohn thinks about an issue quite easily enough by reading whatever he’s shouted onto the page this time, and it’ll make our eyes bleed just as much regardless of what the poll’s doing.
So, I support the @polljack project, and the mischievous consciousness-raising that it aims to achieve. But choosing polls to target is always going to be tricky, and I think some of the earlier efforts, such as the gipsies, arguably did a better job of turning this level of journalism into the joke it deserves to be.