Friday, 8 July 2011

How much power DOES social media have politically?

Lately I have been struggling to convey just how vital I think the surge in social media as a political movement is.

It is democracy in it's purest sense. If enough people feel strongly about something, they are joining together to discuss, plan and take action.

We've seen the enormous pressure that Lansley has faced over his NHS reforms after staggering public reaction online. I don't believe it is a coincidence that Dr Evan Harris, Lib (@DrEvanHarris), the champion of this opposition is also one of the most active and engaged MPs on twitter.

We've seen how groups like the Broken of Britain have shaped the questions asked in parliament through their forensic research and skill in building active supporters through various social media.

We've seen the u-turn on forests following a vast swell of support for the 38 Degrees campaign. The online petition attracted over half a million signatures.

Around the world, we've seen those living in fear under oppressive regimes tweet information they could never have shared with us before. By building support online, many went on to organise protests that involved 100,000s of people in hours.

In the last few days, we've just seen how twitter and Facebook and prominent blogs like Liberal Conspiracy have played a part in forcing major multinational advertisers to pull their support from the News of the World over the phone hacking scandal.

How many of these victories social media can truly claim may be debatable, but what is unquestionable, is that politics seems to be changing almost daily. I don't think politicians are keeping up with the speed, passion and commitment of the social media phenomenon.

After the helplessness and frustration of Iraq and MPs expenses, we were promised a "New Politics" but we were let down spectacularly. The coalition that seemed to offer so much hope gave us VAT rises and tuition fees and tried to privatise our NHS For many, it seems to have been a disappointment too far. People seem determined to make their own "New Politics" and are increasingly leading the way where they feel politicians or media are failing.

When the US stormed Osama Bin Laden's compound, an entirely un-knowing IT consultant (@ReallyVirtual ) tweeted the event live and now has over 90,000 followers.

Tonight, at 9pm, someone claiming to be an ex-News of the World journalist (@ExNOTWJourno) says that he will be releasing a press statement along with 16 other ex-employees of News International. If it is genuine, they will be shaping their own news, uncensored in front of the entire world. He already has over 14,000 followers on twitter.

There has never been a time when ordinary people had this kind of power and I find it thrilling, but it makes me nervous too. I watch Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband suggesting "enquiries" that will undoubtedly take years to come to any conclusion and am more and more convinced that social media will know most of what transpires within months if not weeks. The world has changed and increasingly our established society seems to be left behind.

To ensure that social media does not become the new vigilante, I believe more strongly every day that politicians need to entirely rethink the way parliament and politics works. I think they need to engage as never before and quickly.

What is becoming clearer by the day is that for the first time, both groups have power. At least to some degree.


  1. Good blog! I agree completely that politicos and journos need to rethink rapidly; that they are showing themselves as not fit for purpose. I look forward to reading @ExNOTWJournalist.

    Let's hope that the momentum is maintained!

  2. Coincidentally - I just tweeted "I wonder when *they* will close the internet?"

    I haven't felt this full of hope for a VERY long time (and I have a tear in my eye as I type this). Thank you all! xxx

  3. Did Evan Harris win his former seat back in a by-election or something? (You say he's "one of the most active and engaged MPs on twitter," despite the fact that he lost his seat in last year's general.)

  4. Fair point Lisa, my bad. I suppose that frees him up more, but Tom Watson and Stella Creasey have joined with gusto too.

  5. Does occur to me to wonder whether the last week will encourage those attempting to take (financial) control of the Internet?

    Would my ISP suspend service if I started saying stuff that 'they' did not like?

  6. I feel that David Cameron and Co are always playing catchup with the media. Sometimes they look shellshocked! This is because events are passing them by and they really are bewildered and don't know how to respond to 24/7 media. Control of events is removed from their control and there are no hiding places nowadays as can be seen by News International. There is a scary side this though as I feel we are at the top of a helter skelter and at some poimt we must come down. How we come down is another matter. If we are not careful we will slide into anarchy and that will definately not be nice for anyone.

  7. That age old question “Where did we come from, what are we doing here, where are we going” seems applicable then again maybe not. :¬)

  8. Speaking of the media the daily fail is at it again regarding the dla and the costs the country can save by kicking off the people who dont need it.

    I have a feeling the govt may relent regarding cancer sufferes but this worries me that other groups will suffer.
    I want to say that i am in now way against cancer sufferes having lost my mom 2 yrs ago

  9. He has been tarnished now. How the mighty will fall eventually the sooner the better for some, but lets not forget Labour was involved as well. Now we all know how they write those terrible story's they just ask the PM who would you like our papers to slag off now. NO confidence in present Govt

  10. I agree Sue, social media has been utterly brilliant but, be aware, now we are getting this kind of thing happening -

    LIVERPOOL council snoops are to go undercover on Facebook and Twitter to try to snare benefit fraudsters and rogue traders.

    They say the social networking sites can provide “priceless” information which could lead to convictions and that because such sites are still in their infancy they are not covered by legislation which makes authorities request permission from the courts to investigate.

  11. you could go down that route although you would be a fool a do so and probably end up dead