Last night I did something I don’t normally do. I replied to a tweet by Nigel Farage.
Now there are several problems with Nigel’s tweet. For example he seems to claim that the graph shows a trebling of rapes over an 8 year period, but his graph shows only a single year, which lies outside that period.
What I chose to address is the issue that Sweden’s definition of rape is much wider than most countries, meaning that a sexual assault which would be classed as a rape in Sweden may not be so classed in other countries.
Admittedly I may have used a little bit of ‘attitude’ in my reply.
My expectation was that Farage would ignore my tweet, as he has, and that, buried as it was in his mentions, nobody else would see it or care. On that second point I may have been a little wrong.
In case, like this Tweeter, you’re struggling to keep up with the cut and thrust of this intellectual debate then, up until this Tweet, nobody had mentioned Islam, or even immigration, and certainly nobody had excused rape. As an aside, it’s genuinely amazing that at least 46 people read through Farage’s mentions, saw that tweet and thought the point insightful enough to fav. [Up to 65 favs and 3 RTs as I publish this]
I tried pointing out that I wasn’t excusing anything or talking about immigration, just explaining what the graph appeared to show.
That went well.
The conversation went on all night, although I went to bed, but broadly the lines of attack fell into 5 main categories:
- I was a liberal apologist for rapists and Islam
- I was condoning rape, or didn’t care about the victims
- Muslims are evil rapists and Sweden’s a hell-hole, everyone knows this
- Wikipedia isn’t a reliable source
To be fair, some of category 5 may have been on my side, but we have no way of knowing.
I’m clearly not condoning the rape or assault of anyone, simply saying that the graph that Farage presented is misleading. Nevenka and I actually had a perfectly civil conversation on that subject, with me presenting my view that Farage is celebrating rape and assault, because it suits his political message…which, I feel, is pretty despicable.
Not everybody was so open to debate.
I apologise if I insulted anybody by recognising that different countries treat the crime of rape differently. It’s interesting that nobody interpreted the graph to indicate that the UAE has a very low incidence of rape (quite rightly to, as reports of rape there routinely turn into persecutions and prosecutions of the victim), which makes it clear that the viewers are perfectly aware that rape isn’t rape the world over.
The tweets protesting Wikipedia’s accuracy were mainly terribly witty.
Although, funnily enough, nobody I challenged to find a factual error in the Wikipedia article ever got back to me (but I was told, twice, that facts have a liberal bias. Goddamn objective reality).
One challenge was just surreal.
Here somebody tries to debunk Sweden’s rape statistics using the tweets of a man wanted for rape…in Sweden. Genuinely amazing.
Now that my mentions have calmed down I’m going to look on all of the above as a learning exercise. It’s a demonstration of just how powerful confirmation bias can be; to the extent that people are willing to brand others ‘rape apologists’ (surely an accusation that you’d normally be circumspect about using) if they challenge, in any way, the validity of data.
It’s also a demonstration of just how skillfully Farage uses dog-whistle tactics. You’d struggle to find anything explicitly racist, anti-immigration or anti-Islam in his original tweet, yet people know exactly what he means and even those who can’t understand factual flaws in the graph can draw a straight line from it to Islam. Like Pontius Pilate he keeps his hands spotlessly clean.
The starkest lesson, though, is that trying to oppose Farage is simply a lot of hassle. Even a simple, factual defence fills your mentions for 18+ hours with insults, anti-Islamic memes, and accusations that you support the most barbaric crimes of humanity. Every time you see a distortion, misrepresentation or outright lie you have to think, “Do I want the hassle?”
But if we don’t then what right do we have to expect others to do so?