There’s been a lot of chat in the UK that the forthcoming General Election campaign will be the first where social media plays a significant role in the outcome. And it’s true that in the wake of Barack Obama’s hugely successful social media campaign both main parties in the UK have finally embraced the web as a platform to engage with the electorate.
Unfortunately, while Obama predominantly used social media and the web as platform to inspire and mobilise voters, so far both the main parties in the UK seem to have used it as a platform to launch puerile stunts. I’m thinking Red Rag, Cash Gordon, My David Cameron, etc.
In addition the Conservative party have reportedly demanded central vetting of all social media activity by PPCs (doh), whilst simultaneously positioning George Osborne as an Internet visionary in a frankly ludicrous puff piece for Wired UK.
At best, all of this web activity will rally the core vote, which is all very well, however, that’s not the point of this election – the point is that there is a very large group of people disenchanted by a Labour government that’s clearly run out of steam, unimpressed by the idea of voting for an elitist Tory party full of questionable talent and more fundamentally sceptical about the whole nature and mechanism of our Government in the wake of the expenses scandal.
That’s why I’d argue that the kind of ‘4chan politics’ both parties and their close allies seem to be engaged in, is not going to persuade any of these people to vote for them. In fact, it runs the risk of alienating even more of them, because no matter how much you love 4Chan, it’s hard to imagine the /b/tards actually running a country. The significant role social media plays in this election may be that it serves to further alienate the public from their elected representatives.
Of course Obama used the web to attack McCain and vice versa, but at the heart of his campaign was an understanding that the web can be used to inspire people – to use crowd-sourcing platforms to make the world better, rather than poke fun at the personal characteristics of individual politicians.
I suspect it’s too late for either party to do much about this, however, it is now time that they started thinking about the web as a long-term platform for engagement, rather than an attack platform, because the next Parliament may not be particularly long-lived, and there is a growing desire for a fundamental change in the way we govern ourselves. It seems clear to me that the Internet plays a big role in this, and I believe there’s a great opportunity for the party who embraces this idea and moves ‘the Internet’ into the heart of their party and consequently Government.
In part two of this post I’ll examine how exactly this might be done.