“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
You don’t have to go too far on social media to see that quote alongside a picture of Winston Churchill. It’s been posted so many times that it’s almost as if Churchill actually said it — except he didn’t.
It’s a shame because it’s a quote I wanted to turn to the other day when my colleague and mate Fraser Franks had his own mini-campaign to get another invented quote removed from hoardings at Manchester Airport.
“A day without champagne is a day wasted” reads the board — enforcing the view that people who don’t drink are boring and, worse than that, triggering people, like Fraser, who have struggled with alcohol and struggle with the constant encouragement to drink.
When he posted about this on Twitter someone popped quickly to say: “It’s a Charlie Chaplin quote” except it isn’t. Chaplin was reported to have said “A day without laughter is a day wasted”. Laughter and champagne are not always the same thing, and that’s kinda the problem … and I’m proud of Fraser for pointing things like this out. It’s changed my approach to alcohol myself and how I talk about it. I still drink, and Fraser is not trying to stop all people drinking, but I’ve moderated my consumption even more, and I’m better for it.
Fraser wanted to make a little difference. His view on the board was that it didn’t serve any great purpose, it didn’t help anyone other than the nearby champagne bar, but it did harm the small number of people that struggle and it normalises boozing, and boozing at airports, which is a well-reported problem, with another hoarding a few metres away from it advising travellers that, if they get too smashed, they’ll be chucked off their flight. So he decided to contact Manchester Airport to politely ask them to remove it and then he posted about it on social media.
The responses were almost 100% positive, all polite, and it was a pleasant experience for Fraser … Until 4 days later …
A chap with a blue tick, 50,000 followers, and a grammatically perfect way of writing, popped up with: “Your desire to do everything you can to deal with an issue is laudable, but maybe focus on something more worthwhile?”. We can’t complain about the tone, it was relatively polite, albeit pretty patronising in surmising that something Fraser feels so passionate about is not worthwhile. But what was interesting was what followed … and this is where my area of professional interest and expertise comes in.
Fraser has had plenty of rude Tweets as a footballer, many from Luton Town fans, and it’s something we talk to young players about. They need to be ready for people to say things like …
… but the flurry that followed after Mr blue tick, was the swiftest and most surprising of Fraser’s time on social media. He was mocked, told to lighten up whilst being compared to the Taliban and Oliver Cromwell. This led to a fun B5 morning meeting, which Leigh loves, on the English Civil War. “He banned Christmas?!?”
A bit extreme, no? It felt to me like Fraser was being told firmly, and by lots of people, to pipe down. So I did some digging — and that’s exactly what was going on.
This was an interesting insight into how social media works and how large institutions seek to guide the conversation to go the way that they want it. We have all read about how wealthy institutions have influenced things like the Brexit vote and the US elections, so it should be no surprise to us that influential social media accounts are influencing the discourse on smaller matters like alcohol use.
Why is that relevant here? Well, because Mr blue tick is a senior member of an organisation called the Institute of Economic Affairs, an organisation which is reported to receive funding from the world’s largest tobacco companies and the food, sugar and alcohol industries. Companies and industries that profit from our unhealthy choices.
The IEA campaigns on freedom. The freedom to drink ourselves to death, eat ourselves to death and smoke ourselves to death and the freedom for large companies to profit while we do this.
It might seem like a little thing but popping up on the feed of a former League Two footballer who is trying to encourage his followers to think more about our society’s relationship with alcohol, and the pile on that follows, helps to cement the IEA’s core message — the nanny state is trying to interfere with our lives!
Fraser is not the nanny state. He’s just a lovely bloke who, like many others, had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and is now trying to encourage others to adopt a healthier approach and, as Winston Churchill didn’t say, if he’s got enemies, good, it means he’s stood up for something, sometime in his life.
Another person in the pile on added “I hope you fail”. Well, I’m sorry to break this to him (if indeed he’s a human and not a bot) but Fraser didn’t fail, he succeeded. His polite email to Manchester Airport was met with an equally polite reply. The board will be replaced in September during the next refit. No harm to anyone but a victory for people that are concerned about the encouragement to drink we still experience.
And I’m bloody proud of Fraser.
The reply from Manchester Airport