The Disease that Plagues Maltese Democracy
In this democracy that we live in, we, the citizens of the Republic are granted the right to vote for a party that will enact laws and policies which will determine our country’s economy, society, politics and international status. Consequently, it is our duty as citizens of the Republic to engage ourselves in informed discussions with other voters to decide who should take the seat that would determine our country’s future.
Freedom of expression therefore forms a fundamental aspect of our democratic society, in which the viewpoints that we express in all sorts of ways lead to discussions that oil our democracy. As we debate in a mature, responsible and respectful manner, we all stand to gain as we begin to question the actions of those in power; doing what other institutions do, checking the power of the government.
Unfortunately, when reading what trolls write on social media, it seems that there are many members in our political society who do not understand the most basic principles of our democracy. This is coupled with a political behaviour that is more prevalent in states where democratic culture is just an idea – rather than a characteristic – in which the opinions of others are disregarded. It is a behaviour by which any form of reasoning is thrown out of the window. Instead of a mature exchange of arguments based on analysis and facts, as should be done in an ideal democracy, we are instead given arguments that do not follow reason and logic.
At present, we are in a situation that is nowhere near similar to the situation our Republic was during the 1980s, when it was normal to express one’s disagreement with a punch to the face. In today’s Malta, there is constant caps locking and posting of political junk like there is no tomorrow. One would call it an exaggeration to compare 2010s Malta with 1980s Malta, for there is an underlying difference between a 1980s thug and a 2010s troll in the way they express themselves. While that may be true, the similarity that we have with the ‘80s is the same sentiment of illiberal, undemocratic and authoritarian taught.
Whenever negative news about the government is mentioned, the thumbs of trolls get to work, by resorting to a variation of tactics used in an attempt to stop those from expressing their views.
Bullying tactics through the use of offensive language is one of them. One could remember the comments made by the ex-President of the General Workers’ Union calling women who protested in front of Castile ‘whores’. However, many a time trolls seem to love using ‘whataboutisms’ to try and justify wrong doing. Such as the fact that Pilatus applied to be a bank when the Nationalists were in government, thus implying that labour had nothing to do with the Pilatus debacle.
Scapegoating is also a common tactic. When there were protests in the medical and education sectors, Labour trolls accused the Nationalist Party of attempting to sabotage the supposedly ‘l-aqwa zmien’ results of the government, when it clearly was the result of administrative problems that annoyed medical staff and MCAST teachers.
Others would even post the last electoral results or Malta Today polls, since the people favour the government, any criticism towards the government is unjustified. Trolls also seem to make it a sport when it comes to labelling. The use of the word ‘traitor’ is synonyms to their online activity.
All these are tactics, which should have no place in a democracy, are used to protect a government that has made an orgy of corrupt practices the norm with no mature debating.
As previously mentioned, the Malta of the 2010s is nothing like the Malta of the 1980s. However, when finding comments that support violence against critics and the thuggish removal of the Daphne memorial – which symbolises the cause of a democratic Malta – it goes to show that we might be slowly witnessing the evolution of troll to thug.
The more this drags on, more information of corrupt practices will see the light of day, the more vociferous and violent they will get. The more people that begin to act like them, the more political immaturity and authoritarian attitudes we get to see. All this to protect their master who reigns in Castille. One way or another, our Democracy stands to lose from this disease of Troll Politics.
Thomas Cassar Ruggier