Our recent Media and Communications in Action talks saw a variety of practitioners speak to LSE students about their work the media and media-related industries. Here Politics and Communication MSc student Bethany Marris reflects on the work of Simple Politics, who came to speak to students in December.
For a growing pool of social media users over the last five years, Simple Politics (SP) have assumed an important role in de-mystifying political issues and current affairs. Founded in 2015 by Tatton Spiller, the organisation hasn’t once veered away from its starting mission: to help their audiences ‘have better conversations about the issues and the changes that matter’.
With those subjects that ‘matter’ including seminal UK and US elections, Brexit, and all things COVID-19, the spiralling appetite for Simple Politics’ content is unsurprising. During last year’s general election, the SP team doubled in size, welcoming the equally well-equipped Diane Daniels, an ex-corporate communicator with a learned knack for disentangling the inaccessible. Earlier this month, Spiller and Daniels gave the penultimate talk in this year’s Media in Action series, hosted by the department of Media and Communications at LSE.
With a background in journalism and secondary teaching, few would deny that Spiller has had the perfect training for translating often alienating political concepts into accessible, meaningful snippets of knowledge. During his educational career, the organisation’s founder held a role at the Houses of Parliament, only bolstering his capacity to communicate with impartiality.
With a background in journalism and secondary teaching, few would deny that Spiller has had the perfect training for translating often alienating political concepts into accessible, meaningful snippets of knowledge.
Aside from this,, equally inseparable from the conception of Simple Politics is Spiller’s lived experiences with bipolar and borderline personality disorder. “Simple Politics has been a result of my entire life,” he explained on Zoom. “My head is full of stuff: what I’ve always needed is clarity, something that helps me understand something really quickly”. Perhaps it is Spiller’s empathy teamed with years as an education professional that have resulted in such an approachable and trusted platform.
Notably, Simple Politics’ success has also occurred against the backdrop of a turbulent era in British politics. The 2015 general election was closely followed by the Brexit referendum of 2016, Theresa May’s ascension to Prime Minister, more Brexit, a polarised 2019 General Election, more Brexit, and, of course, the unprecedented political challenges brought by Covid. The need for clarity amidst chaos has never been more prominent.
Unpicking 2020, “the year that changed everything,” Daniels acknowledged that the virus “brought us challenges and huge opportunities”. For many crippled with anxiety by morbid daily briefings, SP’s news snippets were a relief. After casting confusion across the nation, the newly updated tier system prompted one of their Instagram account’s most popular posts. The combined interactivity with their audience, the time the team puts into replying to their messages, and a clear picture of their young demographic has allowed SP to tailor their content sensitively, whilst keeping things witty and light hearted where possible.
Turning to social media fatigue, both Daniels and Spiller spoke openly on how they deal with the constant flow of messages that they receive. For Daniels, it’s important to switch off over the weekend, “even if that’s just notifications”. Although for Spiller, stepping away from the screen is a little trickier. “I just don’t,” he explained, “It’s a massive problem, and when things are really busy, I get quite ill.” Unsurprisingly, ‘doing everything,’ from writing and editing to proofreading, posting and running an online shop can and does take its toll.
Another source of online fatigue comes in the form of keyboard criticism, and, in recent years, this has imposed a huge cloud of stress upon influencers and individuals with large social media followings. Due to the account’s neutral standpoint and unwavering willingness to apologise for any slip ups they make, it’s not something SP have truly had to grapple with. Spiller explained, “we receive remarkably little criticism…we’re just quite inoffensive.” Although their content facilitates debates too, the team spoke positively of their ‘self-policing’ followers, even when tensions are high amidst tense periods such as elections.
Daniels and Spiller provided a unique peek into the back-workings of a key social media project that appears set to become more invaluable in our turbulent political landscape. Perhaps more importantly, they demonstrated how years of experience in corporate and public sector roles can be harnessed innovatively as a force for good on today’s social media platforms, virtual spaces that are often deemed toxic over informative.
Yes, we’re living through a time that demands the input of experts like never before. When the findings and messages of these experts aren’t clearly articulated to the wider public, it’s easy to question their resonance. Helping the public to understand the complexities within politics is crucial in an uncertain time when the threat of ‘fake news’ looms large.