Following the disastrous election campaign, the Conservatives promised a ‘digital war’ against Labour. For weeks, the @DigitalTories Twitter account pumped out memes and promised a website soon. But after gaining thousands of followers, it vanished overnight. And now we know why.
On Thursday 3 August, the account posted an openly racist tweet about Labour’s Diane Abbott. The account then deleted the tweet in the hope that no one had noticed. But it was too late:
Quick thinking to change it for an innocuous pic & then pin… but no. Here's your original tweet. Own it. pic.twitter.com/0KBUe9Y9nP
— Mike Galsworthy (@mikegalsworthy) August 3, 2017
Water melons are a common racist trope used against people of colour. It is an import from the US, as William Black writes for The Atlantic:
The trope came into full force when slaves won their emancipation during the Civil War. Free black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom. Southern whites, threatened by blacks’ newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence.
The creation of people of colour as watermelon-munching dim apes is now well established in the UK too. Conservative Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has written of the “watermelon smiles” of African people. And anyone in doubt should read the first reply Digital Tories received for the tweet:
GORILLA FEEDING TIME IS SOON BETTER LET HER BACK IN HER CAGE SOON BEFORE SHE SPLUTS HATE TOWARDS WHITES AGAIN
— Pete .T. Evans (@Pete_Evans12) August 3, 2017
This level of racist abuse is nothing new for Abbott. The Labour MP has endured ceaseless racial hostility since becoming Britain’s first black woman MP in 1987. Last December, a Conservative Party official shared a tweet of a fat ape wearing lip stick, captioned “Get the Diane Abbott look”. He added his own comment to the post, stating:
Nice lips kid. But a shade too much rouge.
And the simplest internet search will reveal a treasure trove of racist taunts aimed at the Hackney MP.
Gone in 24 hours
The Digital Tories account clearly spotted it was in trouble. First, it deleted the tweet – but it was already screengrabbed. Then, it made its tweets private:
@DigitalTories panicking…. Tweets are now private
— HarajukuJuju (@davewilsonuk) August 3, 2017
And finally, early on the morning of Friday 4 July, the account vanished. Soon to be replaced with this:
Twitter users continued to share their anger at the behaviour of Digital Tories, regardless:
Clear racism as well as offensive generally. Presumably legal action will follow?
— Dominic McHugh (@dommac1972) August 4, 2017
You should pass this to the Police. It is evidence of a hate crime.
— Carto Crazy (@MapdraughterUK) August 3, 2017
In an email to The Canary, the Conservative Party distanced itself from the Twitter account, stating it is:
…not affiliated with the Conservative Party.
The party declined to comment on the tweet, or to condemn the racism from an account using its name and logo. But if this was the beginning of the Tories’ ‘digital war’, it was a catastrophic and self-inflicted loss.
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Featured image via Wikimedia Commons