A Week In Wireless – Echo chambers

It takes a lot to rouse the Informer from his entrenched indifference towards party politics, but the surprise result of the UK general election today is threatening to do just that.

May 8, 2015

4 Min Read
A Week In Wireless – Echo chambers

By The Informer

It takes a lot to rouse the Informer from his entrenched indifference towards party politics, but the surprise result of the UK general election today is threatening to do just that.

Poll after poll anticipated a hung parliament, with the only prospect of a majority coming from unholy alliances of ideologically irreconcilable factions. We shuddered at the prospect of rabid Marxists somehow manufacturing common political ground with goose-stepping xenophobes to form a coalition devoted to the redistribution of wealth to anyone with a Union Jack in their window.

And yet all the polls were wrong, and the Conservative party not only won the most seats, but event secured a majority by itself, consigning potential coalition partners back to their customary obscurity. No need now for the kind of horse-trading that would have secured a majority on the condition that Wembley Stadium is relocated to North Wales.

But it wasn’t just the polls that were wrong; social media seems to have misjudged things pretty severely too. If the circles the Informer moves in were anything to go by there should have been a last-minute swing towards Labour as the only way to keep UKIP out of power and spare Britons the compulsion to wear exclusively purple, like some kind on 1980s religious cult. Now many of these same people are revealing a poor understanding of the democracy they so recently championed by denouncing the electorate for getting it wrong.

Funnily enough Facebook itself has published some research, albeit from the US, on how 10 million users interact with socially shared news. In essence it found that we’re more likely to read news shared by our ‘friends’ and that the majority of them will share our views. While the apparent purpose of the research was to combat the notion that social media acts as an ‘echo chamber’, in which like-minded people all circulate the same set of views with each other, it was at best only partially successful.

Another reason we might be inclined to stick to our own is the spectre of trolls should we dare to venture outside our comfort zones. Together with religion (and Apple) politics is, of course, the most divisive of topics. It seems to be beyond the capabilities of most people to have a civil discussion about politics, especially at election time. Threads can degenerate into hysterical vitriol surprisingly quickly and Godwin’s Law soon comes into effect.

As the Facebook study illustrated, however, social media does greatly improve our ability to track trends, memes and tastes. Another study revealed the Conservative party was the most active on Facebook but that Labour had the most Twitter followers. Funnily enough it seems that, despite the trolls, politicians still consider social media a safer alternative to actually meeting the electorate in person.

While our electoral system will ensure they get hardly any seats, UKIP’s 13% share of the national vote reveals how big a factor the European Union was in this election, perhaps more so than ever before. While there is little chance of the Brussels uber-bureaucrats ever coming face-to-face with the people they claim to serve, they do like to keep nice and busy meddling in everyone’s affairs.

The telecoms industry was able to witness the full majesty of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market initiative this week, which seeks to bring Europe’s disparate countries closer together by making it cheaper for them to call each other and by forcing internet players to play by European rules.

But the crowning ruling of the week has to be the decision by the General Court of the European Union not to allow Microsoft to register Skype as a trademark because it sound a bit too much like Sky. As if the coincidence of the first three letters wasn’t enough, the logo is suspiciously reminiscent of a cloud, and where do you find them?

“Conceptually, the figurative element conveys no concept, except perhaps that of a cloud,” said the Euro Judges in a line of reasoning Monty Python would have been proud of. “[That] would further increase the likelihood of the element ‘Sky’ being recognised within the word element ‘Skype’, for clouds are to be found ‘in the sky’ and thus may readily be associated with the word ‘sky’.”

All in all a great week for European democracy.

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