Ranjana Das, a senior lecturer at Surrey University, is looking at the way social media was used in the Charlie Gard case, and has an interesting post on “Social media and Charlie Gard: populism versus public services?“.
The social media furore around the Gard case has been startling, and offers much to reflect on, in terms of the kind of public discussion and debate that has occurred around medical ethics, healthcare and the very role of the NHS in British public life. By employing some classic markers of populism, the ‘army’ has demonstrated a kind of ‘networked populism’ which has co-opted evidence-based debate into the territory of heightened, emotive responses between and across strangers. These have ranged from genuine anguish and expressions of sorrow, to the use of terminology from the Third Reich to characterise doctors, lawyers and clinicians, and to displaying overwhelming emotions of feeling at one with and attached to the real-time tweeting of court hearings, almost as though these were televisual narratives unfolding.
For an American, part of what’s interesting and puzzling about this case is how “Charlie’s Army” came to turn on the NHS, and talk about it as an unaccountable elite ignoring the will of the people, as opposed to an institution that’s central to the postwar British state and social contract between the UK and its subjects– a very “populist” institution.