You’ve got to feel for Russia, haven’t you? It goes to all that trouble to create sophisticated, deep-fake, under-the-radar misinformation campaigns targeted at the raw heart of both British and US governments, all those gloomy bunker rooms full of hacker nerds, all that money over all those years, and then exactly one (one) Twitter account comes out and says Jo Swinson is quitting before polling day, and everyone just believes and retweets that instead.
I have to preface this by saying: Maximilian Gapes isn’t real and the entire tweet is a lie. Still, thousands of retweets later, the parody account was shuttered. But not before tweeting, “BREAKING: Senior sources at Conservative party HQ have leaked details of approaches made LAST WEEK by representatives of the Lib Dem leadership who contacted them to discuss a potential coalition in the event of a hung parliament”, which then got shared by Labour’s Tulip Siddiq and Alex Sobel, and the SNP’s Angus B MacNeil. Sorry, Russian psy ops, but you’re no match for a lie that sounds nice enough and the inevitability that parliamentary candidates will retweet it without looking.
Fascinating, though, from the perspective of the shitposting connoisseur: everything about the Maximilian Gapes account was tonally perfect to make the lie go viral. The profile picture was the exact same shirt-no-tie wearing-a-suit thing that everyone who goes to Westminster bars by choice and calls themselves a “wonk” has as their display picture; there was the phrasing of the tweet, the breathless “BREAKING” that always pre-empts a naked attempt at retweets; and the in-the-know wink of “senior Lib Dem sources”. Everything about it was cultivated, thoughtful, artistic.
Maximilian Gapes might not exist, but he sounds real enough, because if you’ve had even half an eye on the election you know the type: one of those lads who only tweets “Oh bravo, Matt, done it again” whenever the Telegraph cartoonist does anything at all; could be anywhere between the ages of 12 and 45, it is impossible to tell for sure from their face; somehow starts a Twitterstorm after saying wearing jogging bottoms is “puerile”.
Then there is the lie itself, which is just believable enough, just about hinting at the frailty of Swinson’s public-facing self-belief. And there’s the sheer, entirely plausible Lib Demness of quitting before polling day because people don’t like you. In a confusing time of fake news hysteria, getting it wrong – deliberately or otherwise – is a dangerous game to play, and in the long run it’s probably right that an account such as Gapes’s got shut down. But as a shitposter, as a sort of eyes-open hyper-aware bizarro-world reflection of the current say-without-checking news cycle, he was a creator of masterpieces. Putin, sign him up. Putin, Putin, sign him up.
Putting the ‘defect’ into ‘defecting’
To be fair to Sam Gyimah, he’s had a big year of defecting from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats and getting reported to the police for “inaccurate and dangerous” accusations about his Labour rival’s role in Grenfell, so it’s to be expected that he won’t keep up with everything and know every bit of news, because he’s been too busy swapping out all his blue ties for yellow and Googling “how survive prison?”
That said … he does know Melania Trump is, like, married to the world’s biggest rightwing nationalist hero, yes? And that his new party (you’re in the Lib Dems now, Sam. Check your Wikipedia) is – until election day early-morning negotiations get started, anyway – supposed to be opposed to things like Donald Trump? And so that maybe tweeting, “Melania Trump sends coded message: VOTE LIBDEMS this December 12th” alongside a picture of her in a yellow dress is perhaps, as we say, “not the one”? And some might even say, perhaps, “a guaranteed vote killer”?
Swings and roundabouts
It is 13 seconds in, if you are interested. Thirteen seconds into this video is the exact moment when Johnny Mercer – former army officer, Plymouth Moor View Conservative candidate, former Ministry of Defence minister and the answer to the question “what if Bear Grylls never got his insatiable taste for piss?” – has his heart visibly broken. “Hey folks, so we’re at Manadon roundabout where one of the signs is in Plymouth, and, yeah, I’ve got something to show you,” he says, before creaking the camera around to a canvas sign where someone’s daubed “TWAT” in large red letters over Mercer’s name. “Now that’s not very nice, is it?”
In a week when Mercer deleted a tweet that contained a joke about Diane Abbott’s intelligence, which leaned on a trope that many people condemned as being, well, if not fully racist then at least misogynist (which Mercer denies was his intention), it’s a bit rich to talk about being “nice” in politics.
But now we know the rules – making fun of the most abused politician online: good. Calling Johnny Mercer a roundabout twat: not on.
• Joel Golby is the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant