Facebook killed the political star

If a Facebook post somehow chimes in with the viewer’s own private opinion or bias… it becomes an instant, incontrovertible ‘fact’

Well… let’s not point the finger too directly. Facebook is but one of a number of social media sites – alongside Instagram, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc. – that can all be seen to have severely distorted the (local and international) political balance of power… and a host of other things beside.

But it’s the one I use myself, so I’ll stick with what I know best. And I’ll start with the most recent example, then work my way backwards.
This week, Ivan Bartolo – the former PN election candidate, not the present MP of the same name – addressed a press conference outside the Stamperija to announce that some 200 signatures had been collected to force a motion calling on PN leader Adrian Delia to resign.

So far, so good. I don’t know Bartolo personally, but he does strike me as a serious, no-nonsense sort of politician – of the kind we used to automatically associate with the PN, but which no longer seems to exist anywhere else within that party at all.

Unlike so many other Nationalist exponents these days, he at least seems to understand that there is a proper way of going about such matters. Got an announcement to make? Make it to the press. Don’t limit it just to a Tweet or a Facebook status update… which will inevitably get drowned out in the exponential, chaotic hubbub that is social media commentary today.

But what happened next? Ivan Bartolo’s sober announcement precipitated a flurry of excitement among that microscopic army of anti-Delia social media warriors – all 12 or so of them – who still seem to think that a Facebook ‘update’ or ‘share’ has some kind of power to instantly settle any issue or dispute in their own favour.

So the comments (and ‘likes’) start rolling in. ‘Finally’… ‘This is what we’ve all been waiting for…’ ‘Bye-bye Delia…’, etc.

Erm… excuse me, but the announcement was merely that 200 signatures had been collected (in over a week, by the way). The vote itself has yet to be taken… and guess what? It will be taken by over 1,300 PN councillors.

Mathematics has admittedly never been my forte, but I’m fairly certain that 200 does not constitute a majority of 1,300 (in fact, it works out at just over 15%.)

Yet already, you can hear champagne corks popping all over Facebook… as if a battle that has yet to even be fought, has already been won. It is almost as though ‘social media’ has taken the place of the ‘wishing well’ in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. If a Facebook post somehow chimes in with the viewer’s own private opinion or bias… it becomes an instant, incontrovertible ‘fact’.

Where do these people get such absurd delusions from, I wonder? For starters, the visibility of any Facebook post is, a priori, limited only to the reach of the uploader’s restricted circle of ‘friends’. OK, that reach might be extended through ‘shares’… and in theory, its radius of influence could stretch out exponentially in all directions.

It’s called ‘going viral’, and it tends to happen chiefly with things like Beyonce videos, or the latest public rants by Kanye West or Charlie Sheen. It would be futile to deny that such trivialities do tend to reach literally hundreds of millions of people worldwide, in a very short time.

But a Facebook announcement by an anti-Delia user with around 2,000 ‘friends’? About an imminent challenge to Adrian Delia’s leadership of the PN? My guess is that the post would have been shared around 10 – 20 times in total, and ultimately seen by no more than 20,000 at the very most.

Even then, this tells us nothing about how those 20,000 would have reacted upon seeing it. To get at least a (very) rough idea of that, you also need to tot up all the ‘likes’…  and at the time of writing, the update on ‘PN Mill-Gdid Rebbieh’ has been ‘liked’ by 55 people, and ‘shared’ the grand total of four times.

OK, enough about social media fantasies, and onto the underlying reality. Where the anti-Delia faction struggled to collect a paltry 200 signatures in over a week, the counter ‘pro-Delia’ petition attracted more than 1,000 signatures in less than 48 hours. And the number is still rising.

Granted, not all those signatures are of party councillors. Some 800 of them are of paid-up PN ‘tesserati’: a category that does not actually have a vote in this particular contest.

BUT – and boy, is it a big BUT – they do have a vote when it comes to what matters most: party leadership elections. It was, in fact, the inclusion of the ‘tesserati’ (by Simon Busuttil’s ill-fated reforms) that led directly to the election of Adrian Delia as PN leader in 2017.

Where does that leave the mathematics in this particular equation? By the look of things, the anti-Delia petition – having struggled to reach the entirely unimpressive threshold of 15% – has now run out of steam. The counter-petition, on the other hand, is steadily growing.

Already, then, there is evidence that the Delia faction enjoys an unassailable lead ahead of this vote of confidence. More councillors have openly expressed themselves in Delia’s favour than against; and the rest – i.e., those who haven’t signed any petition at all – will surely be mindful that the present leader is infinitely more popular among the tesserati, than all his detractors combined.

Those 800+ votes will have a direct bearing on this confidence vote. Anyone toying with the idea of contesting the party leadership after this, will know up front that the all-powerful party tesserati will never forgive them for having tried to overthrow their own choice of leader, through the party’s own structures.

To me, it looks a lot like ‘game over’ for the anti-Delia faction. All other things remaining equal, Delia should cruise comfortably to victory in this vote of confidence (though, for the important purpose of covering my own ass… things might still happen to overturn that projection).

More significantly, to my mind, it illustrates that the anti-Delia faction simply did not do their homework on this one. They launched their petition without even bothering to first gauge the extent of their own support among the people who will be voting on their motion. And that’s a bit like diving headlong into shark-infested waters, without so much as dipping your toe into the water first (for let’s face it: losing a toe is infinitely preferable to getting yourself devoured whole in a feeding frenzy).

And these are the people who intend to take over the Nationalist Party, and turn it (according to their own slogan) into an ‘election winning machine once more’. Sorry to be blunt, but you have to first learn how to actually win elections before doing that. And ‘winning elections’ is something these people are manifestly not very good at… to put it mildly.

Still, the thing I really don’t get at all is: how did they even manage to make such a godawful strategic mistake in the first place? How did they so spectacularly forget all the brutal lessons from their own party’s very recent history?

Because all this has happened before. Let’s rewind to the 2017 election – i.e., the starting point of all this turmoil. Then as now, we had (roughly) the same faction approaching certain defeat under the bizarre impression that they were about to win – or, at least, come close to winning.

I am reliably informed, from numerous PN insiders (and I can name at least two: Mario de Marco and Dione Borg, who both said so publicly when I interviewed them) that Simon Busuttil and his entourage actually based that conviction, in part, on the size and atmosphere of the PN’s last-few pre-election mass meetings on the Fosos.

Ah, but how many people does it take to fill the Fosos? Once again, not more than 20,000 (but let’s be generous, and pretend it’s 30,000)…. out of an electorate composed of almost 300,000 voters.

And sure, the resulting 10% might be the tip of a much larger iceberg. After all, over 100,000 ended up voting for the PN in 2017. But… since when does a random sample of just 10% translate into ‘certainty of victory’ in an upcoming election?

By now you will surely have realised that the mass-meeting delusion is entirely analogous to the Facebook ‘wishing well’ effect. Both are clear-cut cases of being trapped inside a bubble that is destined to burst upon collision with reality.

And lo and behold: the same delusion unfolded all over the social media, too. It wasn’t just Simon Busuttil and co. who were convinced that victory was ‘guaranteed’. All the armies of militant pro-PN keyboard warriors all clearly felt the same way.

I had a Facebook discussion with one of these deluded people (no names mentioned, because he is a non-public figure) just a few days before the election itself… and it ended with him crooning triumphantly: ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei!’

Another, slightly more public figure – one of the ‘Occupy Justice’ brigade – put up a post trying to discredit five (5) independent media polls/surveys, no less… all of which (unsurprisingly) pointed towards an imminent, crushing victory for Labour.

The post itself seems to have since been taken down, so this is a paraphrase from memory: ‘I don’t trust any of those polls. They don’t chime in with my own pre-conceived notions. So I say… this is going down to the wire’. Well, we all saw how close to the wire it went in the end. And as you can imagine, both those indefatigable keyboard warriors went ve-e-e-ery quiet just a few days later.

Now, it looks like the same people have once again set themselves up for the same sort of fall. And this shouldn’t really surprise us, because…

OK, I’ll keep the conclusion short, sweet and simple. Because you can’t realistically expect to win an election – or a vote of confidence, or anything at all, for that matter – if you’re not even living in the real world.

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