Original svpol

Just for the sake of archiving it: the March 6 2012 version of the Story of #svpol

Twitter is a strange thing. One can only write 140 characters, and not even that if one wants to include all the @'s, #'s and smileys that goes with a civilized conversation. Somehow, it still manages to collect, mobilize and motivate millions of people to think, fell and do things together - maybe just because the format is so short.

It is also short in a more timely fashion. Except for certain celebrity and/or horse tweets that get reprinted in slower media, the average life span of a tweet is relatively short. Where blog posts can get readers for months (by process of the long tail), tweets are measured in minutes. You have to do some heavy lifting to read tweets older than a few hours, and you have to be really dedicated to go further back than that.

As a further bonus, the built in search function on Twitter is rather less than spectacular, to say the least. Which contributes to Twitter being in a constant state of now-now-now-now.

With this in mind, and for the inherent value of knowing how things went down ex post facto, I wrote down the story of #svpol. Which, for those of you not living in the Scandinavian/Swedish language area, was the central hub for political tweeting. Until things went very, very wrong. And for your benefit, I am now translating it for all the world to see.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the story of how the internet malfunctions: the rise and fall of #svpol.

In a time long long ago, in the mythical year of 2010, there was an election in the far far away land of Sweden. And as in every democratic country prior to election day, every political junkie of every political color and party were overjoyed to tell everyone with (or without) ears about how awesome their affiliation of choice was. In the beginning everyone did their own thing, shouting out into the virtual desert, with little or no effect. Then, a pattern emerged. Some started to use #val2010 [#election2010] while writing about, well, the election, and soon others followed suit. With time, more and more people chimed in, and the closer election day came, the more intense the activity became. Everyone was there - leftists, rightists, radicals, even the stray anti-democrat.

And while there, they argued. Oh how they argued. Moderates, social democrats, pirates and centrists - if any political junkie ever had an argument with any other political junkie, it happened then. Right then and there. Yet despite all the arguing, some sort of bond was forged - people still returned for moe, after all.

Then, election day came and went, and the discussion took a turn to become a place for analyzing the election results. And, as you might imagine, people soon figured that they had exhausted every possible angle of the particular result. And by the by, people started drifting off into the virtual loneliness again.

But just letting #val2010 die, and return to the way things were before, wasn't an appealing option. After all, it was kind of nice to have somewhere to to for that political quick fix, even if the only people online at that moment came from other parties. Only speaking to those who agree with you all day long isn't all that it's cranked up to be, and Twitter is after all bigger than one's circle of friends. That's kind of the point.

So slowly but surely, #svpol grew into existence. Not without competition, of course - #swpol, #svepol and countless other varieties were in use. Even #val2011 came into being about the (very local) reelections. But after a process of informal elimination, #svpol reigned supreme. And before anyone knew it, order (and the constant, disorderly arguments that went along with it) was restored.

As you might imagine, there was no plan, no official entity or really anything other than an informal agreement between people that, okay, we political junkies use #svpol. A sentiment that "We may disagree about just about everything else in the world, but this one thing we can agree on".

It's really something of a political step forward. Not the constant arguing - there's hopefully no way to forwardstep that out of existence. But the fact that you (or anyone else) could gauge the current political mood by just taking a quick look at the discussions taking place - that's progress. And it gave many people an insight into contemporary politics that would have taken an absurdly long time to get otherwise.

Was it perfect? No, but it was. And it worked in an everyday setting, which is just about as perfect as things political can get.

If this was the whole story, it would be quite boring. And unnecessary to write about, to say the least. Unfortunately, the story turns downhill from here.

One day, the site formerly known as Politiskt Inkorrekt (what used to be the leading platform for antiislamism and general racism, now defunct) had an idea. Their main activity was to write subtly racist posts, and then letting the readers be not be too subtly racist in the comments. So they thought: "Let's let loose the forces of comment trolling upon the general public! For too long the uncritical hegemony of contemporary islamophiles have dominated Twitter, and it is time to bring the Truth to the world!"

So they wrote a post about it, explaining that #svpol was a haven for the worst kinds of Cultural Marxists (a very technical term, not to be confused with any kind of real Marxism) and that everyone there needed to be told about the upcoming Muslim threat. And, to help newcomers, they included a basic guide to how Twitter works. Which was so basic, it can be summarized by this statement: "Give 'em hell, and tag everything with #svpol".

And before anyone knew it, the #svpol time line was filled with all kinds of ideological "truths". Mostly about immigration, the Muslim threat, the conspiracy of lies from the mainstream media to black out certain topics, the feminist threat to humanity - just the kind of unfettered racist propaganda you'd expect to see in the darker corners of the internet. To visualize it, just take the worst comment section you can find and multiply by a factor of months.

And what the newly immigrated tweeters lacked in powers of persuasion and reason, they more than made up for in number and persistence. (They are, in fact, still going strong.)

You can imagine the anger and loss many felt when they discovered that the once lively gathering point now was a watering hole for barely literate, propaganda spewing fanatics. Not only because of the content, but because of the breach of the informal compact: you do your thing, I do mine, others do their, and even if we don't agree with each other about anything, we can at least agree to do our things in parallel. I know what's up with the world, you know it, everyone knows it - and we can therefore talk about it.

That, in itself, is a valuable thing. And it is a shame to see it lost due to people who have no idea what they do, yet who do it anyway.

And so I document this, in the hopes that by the time you read it, we will have learned from past mistakes. Not that we've gotten things perfect - they never will be perfect - but that we've managed to get along. Even while still duking it out, doing our thing in coexisting, competitive parallel.

It happened once, after all. And hope is always the last thing to die.

August 15, 2011

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