The general election will not be decided by social media. And that’s official. Sort of.
At the Social Media World Forum at Olympia yesterday, Kerry McCarthy MP (Labour’s ‘Twitter tsar’) and Craig Elder (the Conservatives’ Head of Online Communities) debated the impact of social media on British politics.
With one eye on what happened in the U.S. Presidential election in 2008, and another on the increasing use of the Web in almost every area of British life since the last general election in 2005, the presumption is that the Internet will play a much bigger role this time. But how much bigger?
Some observers are already playing down the likelihood of a seismic shift along the lines of that achieved by Barack Obama. eDemocracy points out the limited the size of the electorate open to any influence, let along that of social media. Meanwhile, Micah L Sifry of techpresident points out how Britain lacks some of the key ingredients that made it possible to build up the use of new techniques in the U.S. — greater freedom in fund-raising, a long campaign, and competition for leadership within political parties.
There are at least two new factors in the coming election — the first-ever televised prime ministerial debates and the first full-on deployment of social media during a British election (Facebook was a year old, YouTube had just started and Twitter didn’t even exist back in 2005).
In a City University panel discussion on the ‘new media election’ on Tuesday, host Evan Davies of BBC’s Today programme framed the debate in terms of which would be most influential: The old, controlled media in the form of the three 90 minute TV debates to be broadcast by Sky, ITN and the BBC? Or the new, uncontrolled variety in the form of anyone with access to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube et al?
Billboard political advertising is a mainstay of election campaigns the world over. A generation ago, the ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster was credited by Conservative party Treasurer Lord Thorneycroft with winning the 1979 election for Margaret Thatcher. But might the advent of social media mean that its days are now numbered?
Alastair Campbell, Labour’s director of election communications at the last election, thinks political advertising is losing its effectiveness:
BBC College of Journalism head Kevin Marsh gave the keynote at the News:rewired conference at City University on Thursday and made a series of sharp observations about how social media is changing journalism that were left largely unchallenged by the audience due to the over-running of his slot: Blogging has redefined notions both of what constitutes a story is and of what a is meant by a deadline, and is improving journalism. Journalism has never been healthier but he was glad not to be starting out in the trade Expertise is going to become an ever growing factor in journalism.
There was a lot of reaction to Kevin’s comments in the #newsrw Twitter back channel and I grabbed him afterwards for some more details of the thinking behind his views:
The return to work on Monday prompted the launch of the main UK political parties’ pre-election campaigns and the indications are that social media is likely to play a big role in the run-up to the general election.
David Cameron kicked off the Conservatives’ Draft Health Manifesto with a very neat ‘ask Cameron’ feature making use of Google Moderator — something I’d not heard of before but previously used by Conservative MP Giles Chichester in the runup to the Copenhagen climate summit.