The internet has long been heralded as the answer to voter apathy. Sadly, to date computer wizardry has largely only activated and motivated those already involved with politics further reinforcing the divide between the online haves and have nots. The elections on 3 May could be very different though as politics has really and truly come to the internet.
In the last year all the main UK political parties have launched internet-based campaign tools designed to cut through a skeptical and, sometimes, hysterical British media allowing parties to communicate their messages directly to voters. This is not a new idea. Door knocking has been doing much the same for decades. The difference here is that voters are being empowered to do something with the message once they’ve read, heard or seen it. The ‘forward’ button may allow easily communication of a link, guerrilla-marketing video clip or funny e-mail but now with the rise of social media sites people, genuine random folk not just politicos, can get closer to those aspiring to represent them than ever before.
The Conservative leader’s WebCameron video blog is a good example of how to cut through the media filter and the facility to take questions from the public is a neat feature. His almost daily uploads are designed to help people build up an idea of the family man and the motivations behind his policies (to be announced, of course). The Labour Party was a late entry into the foray with its tie up with YouTube, LabourVision, but is making some headway. RSS feeds from these sites and updates now mean people who want these videos delivered into their inbox can have them instantly. No messy leaflets, tramping the streets, no stamps, no letters and no barking dogs and entry-controlled doors. This is the new politics in action.
Perhaps the biggest phenomenon is not new ways to deliver messages but new ways to organize politically. University campuses across Britain and the US have long been using social media sites like Facebook and MySpacepages to leverage campaigns for student union elections – but so are mainstream politicians. Pursuing a social media option is not just a simple matter of uploading a flash website, sitting back, and watching your hit count grow, it must mean a genuine interaction and conversation with voters. Campaigns online no longer just have supporters they have ‘friends’, people who actively associate themselves with a political message, party, campaign or personality freely and deliberately.
But as the Conservatives for Hazel Blears page on Facebook illustrates social media campaigning can work in favour of you and against you. And can drive some superb mainstream media coverage too. It also demonstrates the increasingly asymmetrical power relationship in politics. One individual with a bit of knowledge can now have a disproportionate impact on public opinion, media coverage and perceptions. But equally, an organized campaign group can exert campaigning potential much greater than they could alone.
On Despatchblog.comI’ve been encouraging people to get involved with political campaigns on Facebook.com for some time. By the time the UK goes to the polls for the next General Election tactics deployed on Facebook www.facebook.com for the first time in the 3 May elections won’t be innovative, they’ll come as standard. Politics is fast changing, are you keeping up?
Post by DERTyLuke