I’ve become somewhat fixated with the use of whataboutisms and how regularly they’re used on social media and indeed the MSM.

I first became aware of this phenomenon when reading a little about the Russian disinformation war. Now obviously I don’t know if this is real or just a conspiracy theory that I can buy into, but the story goes that Putin has been playing the long game in an online ‘war’ with the world for many years, with the objective of creating divisions in each country. So things like Brexit, Trump, the anti-vax movement, and all the batshit crazy things that we’re currently trying to get our heads around were all heavily influenced by a Russian intervention.

The reason that I can buy into it so easily (besides the overwhelming evidence around companies like Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon etc) is that if you social media watch for any length of time, you can see little waves of people all saying the same thing at around the same time. Follow those little waves for long enough and you can see how they grow into “facts” before your eyes even when they’re not.

Anyway. . .this blog isn’t about a disinformation war, far cleverer people than I have blogged about that, but specifically the tactic known as whataboutism. If you’re unfamiliar with it let me explain with an example, I come home from work drenched so moan as I’m walking through the door about the weather, but my wife helpfully says something like “think of the people that have no water, we should think ourselves lucky”. This is a crap example, but hopefully you get the picture. It disarms the original point, deflecting the conversation onto a tenuously connected issue.

Most of us have grown up with our parents using this technique way before Putin weaponised it – how many times were you told about the children that had no food when you sat at the table saying that you didn’t want to eat your dinner? It’s a technique that we’ve all grown up with, have mostly resented, but in most cases have gone on into our adult life and used ourselves. We all perpetuate the whatabout cycle.

Anyway moving onto people and groups shifting a narrative by this technique of course we see it everyday on social media. I was struck this week by somebody posting under Gabriel Pogrund’s Times exclusive post revealing that the PM’s Chief of Staff was being paid via his own lobbying firm, by another poster replying with a “what about GPs” whataboutism. It was so deliciously unconnected I had to respond. It’s like some random neurodiverse word connecting game isn’t it? Like clearly the issue in the original post was the fact that it looked a bit dodgy that at the highest level in the land there was something a little suspect going on? Hang on, who am I kidding? It would have been a bigger scoop if Pogrund had exclusively revealed that our government were doing something noble. . . like anything at all.

We’ve seen it in the right-wing kickback against Belfield’s conviction – how many of those posts celebrating Alex Belfield and all that he pretended to stand for, compared his sentence to that of a child groomer or a paedophile? Like it makes zero difference to the argument, but it’s a great deflection for them as otherwise they’d have to ask themselves why they allowed themselves to be duped by a person that has clearly got major issues.

However all of the above pales into insignificance over the column inches given over to Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield allegedly jumping “the queue” to get to see the Queen lying in State. Like what the actual f**k? Why are our newspapers, columnists, and influencers so bothered by this? I would get it if we were on a slow news day, but I’ve never known a time with more news than at the moment. There are wars, destructive weather, and in this country alone a self-imploding government that appears to make things worse for the majority of people every time they open their mouths, but nope. . . let’s talk about Phil and Holly? By my calculations (and with the disclaimer that I am crap at maths), this news would impact just 0.07% of the population – the people that were probably in the queue on that day, yet they’re all still talking about it days later.

Meanwhile, take the cost of living crisis as an example and how many people are going to be impacted by an even steeper economic decline than was originally predicted, or take the amazing scenes coming out of Iran at the moment where so many brave women are attempting to regain autonomy over their own bodies or the Ukrainian pushback which saw them taking back control over quite a large proportion of the land. I mean, it’s really not like there’s nothing bloody massive going on is it? Yet even today a whole week since the old Queen has been dead and buried, people, are STILL outraged. Dan Wootton is clearly beside himself as he splits his venom between the This Morning dream team and Meghan Markle, thank goodness Dr Aseem Malhotra has held a press conference demanding a pause on the vaccine rollout giving Mr Wootton something positive to get behind today too.

Is it, as some people have suggested, the perfect excuse to finally go for Schofield again? Remember that was bubbling around for quite a while back in 2020 as stories started to swirl, but then that stopped when he was forced to come out of the closet due to a newspaper getting ready to do an expose on him. Is it that as a country we love to build people up to knock ’em down, after all Holly and Phil have had a good run of being national treasures. Or is it really just that people feel that it was desperately unfair and so they need to get really angry about it, after all, if Beckham could queue, surely everybody else could too. Well, that doesn’t really stack up does it, because in reality loads of people “jumped the queue”. We live in a world of stark inequality, a world where some people never have to queue for anything, let alone seeing the queen lying in state. Or are we still so angry post-pandemic that we just need any old excuse to kick off at people? Or is it as basic as Willoughby and Schofield sell newspapers, so they have to keep the story going?

I guess we’ll never know what the real reason this story has dominated the news this week, but we can all be sure of one thing – it’s a bloody great example of whataboutism.