For those of us that revel in mass self-righteous indignation, the UK Twitterverse was a beautiful place last Friday. I like may others, picked up
the flaming torches and stormed the Daily Mail‘s windmill demanding blood. Jan Moir‘s notorious opinion piece regarding the death of Stephan Gately was the perfect marriage on innuendo and prejudice. Exactly the sort of ignorant and loathsome bilge that the Daily Mail trot out on a regular basis. Only this time the level of ignorance mixed with the breathtaking dismissal of the evidence and circumstances behind Gately’s death invoked a furious reaction among on Twitter and Facebook. By the end of the day, Moirgate had become like Max Gogarty, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross in that the story became about the backlash rather than the story itself.
The swiftness of the campaign against Moir’s piece was impressive. A Facebook page was published with all the contact details of the advertisers. And it seems to have worked. This of course is the best way to strike at a commercial newspaper, is in their wallet rather than the toothless Press Complaints Commission.
But this was more than the natural outrage at some scandalous hate filled accusations abut the lifestyle of a dead man. It was an opportunity for anyone who has a beef with the Daily Mail to strike a blow against them. The Mail has been the champion of the reactionary and intolerant. It trades off the spread of fear, panic and prejudice and the victims of their bile plus those who sympathise with them have been waiting for them to slip up so they can strike back. Make know mistake, this this Liberal Britain’s Ross and Brand! At least the protion of Liberal Britain that’s on Twitter at any rate
The reaction is yet another example of how social networks can organise people in a short period of time. It also demonstrates how expressions of public reaction can be amplified in in an arena beyond the control of the news media. Once again the masses (albeit a pretty small mass) are controlling the agenda and those who make a living out of doing precisely that need to get a handle on social networks quick or find themselves in trouble with their bosses. It’s worth pointing out that the UK Twitterverse only represents a small proportion of the British population. So while they may be loud, it is hardly enough to bring down the Daily Mail.
However, as social networks continue to expand, so will increase the likelihood that similar backlashes and Spontaneous Campaigning will grow in size and influence. With specific regards to the tabloid press, they would do well to note what took place on Friday and take action. After careful consideration and tea drinking, I’ve narrowed them to three:
Engage in Social Networks – Engage, converse, build your own constituency on Twitter and Facebook etc. Hook up with people who will instinctively promote your output and defend it against criticism from your enemies. Believe it or not, their are people out there who will agree with Jan Moir, or at the very least defend her right to make unfounded accusations and propagate dangerous stereotypes.
Attack Social Media – Try to stop Social Media from growing by using your influence in the non-line world with Twitter Causes Cancer stories and Facebook Linked to Muslim Extremists. That sort of thing.
Erect a pay wall – Lets face it. How many of us would have read Moir’s piece if it had been published on paper only? By making it free and online, it becomes accessible to the sort of people who don’t usually read and consequently are not used to the Mail’s variety of poisonous bile. Nor would it be available to the many people who are waiting for the opportunity to stick the boot in when the Mail publishes an obviously inaccurate borderline deranged interpretation of a tragic event. A pay wall would go some way of stopping the wrong people from reading their shit.
I’m not going to speculate which of any of the above roads the Mail or any other news organisation will walk down (although I reckon they’ll have a quick stroll down the second because it’s cheap and less work). However, for the second time in a week, we are seeing the effectiveness of a social media to build a consensus, turn it into a movement within hours and produce tangible results from their activity. The implications are potentially huge and far reaching for democracy.
What’s more, on both occasions, these movements loosely stem from a liberal/leftish sentiment. Could it be that the myriad and disparate institutions of the left have found a platform that allows them to quickly form a consensus and campaigning tool with which to fight political battles? Now that would truly be something.