Twitter v #NOTW: the growing power of social media?

Over on the BBC, Rory Cellan-Jones has some background on an interesting aspect of the News of the World story. For a while now, traditional news outlets have been in competition (of sorts) with social media to feed a developed appetite for rolling news. However, as Cellan-Jones has flagged, this story appears to be bringing the print and broadcast media into conflict rather than competition with social media, particularly Twitter.

A quick click on the current picture on trendsmap.com (at 12 pm on 06/07/2011) shows all the main terms trending in London, with #brooks, #murdoch, #milly and #notw also trending in Dublin too (Belfast has @jlsofficial).

Last night Dewi mirrored the growing clamour for a boycott of Murdoch products as a public response. On-line, a battery of tweets were directed at advertisers, since, as @the_Z_factor points out (from the Cellan-Jones piece):

“I don’t know how you’d locate News of the World readers,” she explains,” but anyone can see the advertisers”.

While this campaign may be effective, in the short term, it will be interesting to see if it brings about a genuine behavioural change in the medium or long term. If previous ethics campaigns against multi-nationals are anything to go by, it may only be the beginning, or continuation, of a long struggle (think Naomi Klein’s No Logo). Those campaigns were in a pre-social media era and required effective and considerable organisation and resources.

Now, as Cellan-Jones states at the end of his piece:

It does however look as though a random collection of loosely organised people with no one leader have come together to deal a blow to the finances of a powerful media organisation.

Such an outcome, delivered at such speed, would not have been possible five years ago and is another measure of the growing power of the social media phenomenon.

As Cellan-Jones also notes – campaigns  mounted on Twitter have been typically short and sharp rather than sustained. In this instance, a genuine reaction against the Murdoch empire and its reach may find an extended outlet beyond those traditional media outlets. Arguably it also an issue of scale and demographics: the current Belfast obsession with @jlsofficial may suggest we are a bit away from a major local impact.

The whole piece is worth a read.

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  • Mmm interesting article. However Cellan-Jones shows he is somewhat out of touch with the discources and critical awareness as it pertains to social justice activists and the movements from which Naomi Kleins bases her seminal peice No Logo

    ” It does however look as though a random collection of loosely organised people with no one leader have come together to deal a blow to the finances of a powerful media organisation.

    Such an outcome, delivered at such speed, would not have been possible five years ago and is another measure of the growing power of the social media phenomenon.”

    In some ways he is of course correct. These tools (a much more accurate term than the vague and contextually empty ‘phenomenon’ ) were not at peoples disposal five years ago. The speed with which ‘the public’ can communicate, mediate and organise is of course assisted by these technologies in some cases. However we only need to look at the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly Egypt, to see a rather lazy understanding of the multiples roles, uses and limitation of social media tools. It was no more a Twitter or Facebook revolution than it was a Al Jazeera revolution. An somewhat understandable focus on new tools (something I’m currently doing myself as a thesis on social media and Egyptian uprising) needs to be placed in a wider context. An the ultimate context is people who have subjective (and shared) ethical and moral ideas a mutual respect that tends to be the unspoken foundation of all ideas of social solidarity, equality, justice fairness etc. And people willing to act on those considerations. People seem to forget that the social bit of social media is people. interacting and relating to each other directly, and indoing so beginning to produce and reproduce value laden social relations in ways that reflect their world view.

    However his confusion is clear when he ascribes the term “random collection of loosely organised people” to a very well defined collective act of seeking to get advertisers to pull out of NOTW. There clearly is nothing random about this considered action to get advertisers to pull funding from NOTW. Its extremely well focussed with clear objectives, regardless of how successful it is. The fact that most people may not even know each other does not in itself make it random.

    Cellan-Jones comments alludes to the prevasive idea of the unruly mob, uneducated and uncontrolled, with an appetitie for chaos in response to their lot. ‘Representative Democracy’ puts some order on the chaotic mob, its structures and institutions reining in the less enlightened tendency of the savage masses. This of course is complete bullshit, a myth that serves to justify a sense of entitled privilege.

    On the specific of the movements Klein covers, the where movements that place moral and ethical consideration center stage, but they where of course movements of resisitance to capitalism and ever encroaching enclosure of neo liberal ideology and the markets into all aspects of our lives. I cut my political teeth getting beaten up by riot police as we sought to shut down G7’s, IMF and WTO meetings. Back then these where primarily solidarity actions with the Global South where IMF/World Bank policy, shaped by the lobbying financial interests of the West ravaged countries and communites. (Little did i think 10years later the IMF would be in Dublin this weekend, going through this states books to make sure the policies they are enforcing upon us are stuck too) We were then labelled terrorists, we were the unruly mob, our politics and ideas ignored and silenced in the mainstream media whilst our movements continually brutalised by police/state repression across Europe. With regards to social media our movemnets developed them long before Web 2.0 became ‘common sense’. We did all this without leaders. Those of use who where not self described anarchists, – I am – where very happy to work via horizontal networks that embedded direct democracy and consensus in our decision making

    Political/social justice movements always have been the site of transformatory technology. Some example:

    The Apache server that run about 80% of the net was partly developed by anti-capitalist, open source, anti-intellectual property activists. The financial market and specifically the free informational flow of algorithms that enables coked up traders to leverage trillions in currency trading daily making millions – without doing anything more that dicking about with a mouse – is paradoxically reliant upon software developed from the intellectual and social perspective of anti capitalists and anarchists

    Indymedia is the template from which almost all participatory online journalism and story telling in based. From 1999 in Seattle as part of the protest that shut down the WTO, the first Indymedia platform was utilised, and that open shared programme framework, which could be developed and tailored by collectives themselves, saw over 100 other collectives in over 70 countries within 2 years. It was and remains an activist tool, but its uses and context vary across the continents. From deep in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico indigenous comunites told of their struggle against neoliberal at the same time as people across US and Europe spoke about the effects of privatisation, militarisation etc. Indymedia was an integral part of those movements, it was an organising tools, it gavce people the space to create meaning.

    What Cellan-Jones decribes is actually a crowdsourced campaign, spontaneaous and intelligent and the work not of random people, of people making concrete meaning for themselves and each other through working together. The long term impacts are hard to tell. One thing is clear in both long term struggle and small campaigns alike. If the first activisty thing you get involved in actually has a level of success, your very likely to become more involved with activism generally. The tangential benefits of even short term financial impact may take a while to come out. However such insight in unlikely to come from yer man over at the BBC