Why would ordinary people take to Twitter to advocate the firebombing of total strangers?

Residents angry at their portrayal by Channel 4 (published in The Independent)

Residents angry at their portrayal by Channel 4 (published in The Independent)

Answer- in response to the screening of a Channel 4 documentary purporting to follow the lives of people who receive their primary income from the welfare state. Controversial documentary “Benefits Street” , which was shown last night at 9pm, was presented as an attempt to:

reveal the reality of life on benefits, as the residents of one of Britain’s most benefit-dependent streets invite cameras into their tight-knit community

The response from some Twitter users was immediate and vitriolic. Jess Denham, writing in The Independent today reported a selection of these tweets, which included:

“I want to walk down #BenefitsStreet with a baseball bat and brain a few of these scumbags,”

“Set fire to #Benefits Street”.

“Watching benefits street from last night, such scrounging bastards”

It has been stated that the police are investigating criminal activities which were filmed as part of the documentary, as well as exploring the threats made towards the residents who featured in the documentary. But why would people react so violently to what is, after all, a highly selective portrait of the lives of a tiny minority of those individuals who claim benefits? One explanation may be found in the number of popular myths which abound regarding the welfare state. A Trade Union Congress report, published in January 2013, highlighted common voter misconceptions regarding the use and abuse of the welfare state. The infographic produced as part of this report demonstrates that respondents, on average, over-estimated the percentage of the welfare budget spent on providing benefits to unemployed people by a massive 38%.  Perceptions of benefit fraud were even more grossly inflated, with the average figure given by participants for the amount of the welfare budget claimed fraudulently standing at 27%, in contrast to the actual figure of 0.7%. Lacuna’s second edition, Austerity and Prosperity, which is due to be published in May 2014, will explore the origins and persuasive power of these myths, and offer alternative perspectives on existing debates. To ensure you don’t miss out on this or any other exciting coverage, subscribe to our mailing list, “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @Lacunamagazine.