2016 was a year of surprise, and not just on the internet. 2015 and the Tory vote wasn't any different.
I've been thinking a lot about spheres of influence and the spheres which we allow to influence us - the concept being that we are in spheres of people who influence us - our friends, families, those we choose to follow on social media, lecturers, teachers, employers, etc. We also have spheres of people who could potentially be influenced by us. Often they're the same, sometimes they're not - if you're someone who publishes or broadcasts any kind of work, for example, you may be able to influence people who wouldn't have the ability to influence you.
What if the sphere of influence that we choose to exist in - and yes, we choose to an extent, because we are now told to 'get rid of anyone who makes us feel less than wonderful', and the digital age has advanced such that we can follow and unfollow people and their opinions at will - are causing us to be surprised by the world in its entirety. Sorry, really really long sentence.
The election of a conservative government in 2015, last year's Brexit vote and the United States' election of Trump caused shock, horror and complete lack of understanding among what appears to be 90% of my sphere of influence. The shock spanned across my Facebook feed - being the actual real life people who I spend my time with, and my twitter feed - being those who I appreciate as social influencers, bloggers, authors, podcasters, actors, and just about anyone else who I have decided that I find interesting. Of the vocal people, there were a couple who were hypothetically voting trump and a few who were voting for Brexit, maybe one who was willing to post online that they would be voting for a conservative government. I could still name them - they were that few and far between.
One of the loudest reactions I heard after each of these 'surprises', was Who are these people voting for Trump/Brexit/Tories? Less so with Trump, I guess, as there were so many problems with the opponent that some seemed to be voting Trump out of principle, but certainly for the two British events - people couldn't understand where these people were.
Are they people just crawling out of the woodwork, people who don't go to schools or universities and don't use the internet? Are they people who are just real life trolling us all and actually voting for the unpopular opinion as a joke? Is every single one of them a racist?
Or, are they just the people we don't follow on social media? People we choose not to associate with, online or otherwise? People who aren't the same class, generation or race as us, perhaps?
Or, are they people who have opinions different from ours on topics we feel so strongly about that we attack in conversation to a point where these people no longer enter these conversations with us.
This problem is twofold, I feel. It happens in person, and over social media. As a 22 year old student, politics is something that I speak about face to face fairly frequently, but I do feel that if I have an opinion which the majority of the other people at the table don't agree with, I'm made to feel like an outcast or bad human being just for differing in opinion. On the other hand, I'm fairly sure my parents don't have conversations with their close friends about politics, because it's 'a touchy subject' and I just find that so bizarre.
Social media heightens the problem. Being a blogger, I check who is following me and unfollowing me on twitter - and the results fascinate me. I take a genuine interest in the analytics because I find social media fascinating, but I also say pretty much exactly what I think on there; while endeavouring not to be rude to or about anyone specifically, or to generalise. I have been blocked or unfollowed several times for saying something that others don't agree with. People can wipe me, a relatively non-extreme not-always-left-wing-but-completely-harmless 22 year old, from their sphere of influence immediately for putting together 140 characters which they didn't agree with.
I see tweets that I don't agree with every day. Every single day, someone who I find funny, or whose blog I enjoy, or who posts beautiful photographs or engages with interesting discussions or has similar interests to me, posts something that I just point blank disagree with. It might be racist, it might be homophobic, it might be anti-religion, and it equally might not be. I don't unfollow them. Why? Because I spend a pretty decent amount of time on social media, and who would I become if I spent my entire life deleting opinions that I don't agree with from my feed. I would have no one to form an argument against, if only in my head, No one to spark off, no one to inform me of the opinions of the people voting differently to me politically. Laura Jane Williams, who is yet another person who I don't always agree with but choose to follow because I think she's got a lot to make me think about, recently tweeted asking for people to give recommendations of people to follow who she wouldn't agree with and who would therefore make her think differently, which I thought was admirable. She commented that she 'wanted to see what was out there', and I think that an unwillingness to do that is the exact problem; the problem causing all of this political 'surprise'.
If we 'unfriend' those people, in any capacity, they haven't gone away with their opinions, they just aren't being put in front of you any more. That, is why I think so many 'remain' voters were so surprised by Brexit - because we avoided those who were going to vote differently to us. We had slowly filtered them out of the spheres which influence us, and as such, failed to recognise that there was a significant, plausible opponent.
Do you immediately get rid of anyone who posts something that you fundamentally disagree with?