I was very happy to see John had picked up early on the ‘Minister hit by Jeep’ controversy at the weekend. It facilitated a fascinating conversation, and captured the fact that reader DC’s satirical response to An Phoblacht’s YouTube video of the incident was taken down after a complaint of copyright infringement from An Phoblacht themselves.
An Phoblacht’s view count was way off their normal scale. By the end of 24 hours it had had 44k views. A success you might say? Well, it just goes to show that metrics in new media can be deceptive. As Malachi O’Doherty points out the video was so well shot that it subverted the very message the party wanted to portray:
.[Gerry Kelly] would be the first to complain if anyone else tried to interfere with the police in the same way, but he lives in the apparent confidence that he has authority to demand that the police bend to his will.
What is even more amazing is that, in making a show of himself like this, he has actually upstaged the story his party wanted told, of how the Tour of the North parade behaved passing St Patrick’s Church.
But he isn’t the only one who has lost his political touch. The party itself, in releasing the video, has provided the evidence which damns him. And Sinn Fein used to be such good propagandists.
At my first Sinn Fein press conference back in November 2003, I was suitably impressed. Held in the Culturlainn theatre it had everything you would expect from a well oiled PR machine, formality, timeliness and visual impact. Journos got their questions in, each was dealt with politely and/or firmly where necessary.
There was no doubt about who was in control.
That determination towards control was (and remains) a distinguishing characteristic, not simply of political parties but of most conventional organisations which are fully and socially engaged in the pursuit of power, influence or money.
The net has not yet changed the fundamental way these things are brokered. In part that’s because networked tools are as yet too crude and unreliable to allow us to find a better and more accountable way to make important strategic and specialised decisions about the way we run our societies.
Liquid democracy remains a unrealised dream or nightmare, depending on your perspective. Besides, technological change as often just layers new forms of communication on top of older ones (think newspapers, radio and tv) as it obliterates prior ways of doing things (horse drawn v horseless carriages).
However the rules are very different.
Socialised content does not rely on top down sponsorship or cozy understandings with a limited (and controllable) set of specialised mediators. Individuals are creators and distributors as well as consumers. Henry Jenkins critiquing the marketing ‘ideas’ of memes and viruses a few years back noted:
In focusing on the involuntary transmission of ideas by unaware consumers, these models allow advertisers and media producers to hold onto an inflated sense of their own power to shape the communication process, even as unruly behavior by consumers becomes a source of great anxiety within the media industry. A close look at particular examples of Internet “memes” or “viruses” highlight the ways they have mutated as they have traveled through an increasingly participatory culture. [Emphasis added]
This increasingly participative culture arises from (rather than is caused by) a shift in perspective. Technology is facilitating a shift from a linear viewpoint in which there is only one authoritative perspective, to a multiple [many to many] one in which the initial impulse gives way to the often precise and sometime adverse judgements of an individuated crowd.
In the case of the former there is every reason to want to control every part of the interaction you can. In the latter it is neither possible nor desirable to try to control every possible outcome.
In writing about Gerry Adams’ tweeting in February this year, I argued that the real test might come “if and when he and his party have to deal with the distortions and transformation” of party messages.
So this year the Carrick Hill video backfired, just as last year JJ Magee’s video worked. Magee’s gambit was intuitive and showed a perspective that once shared effected a change in this year’s Parade Commission’s ruling.
Magee demonstrated to us a ‘new’ truth, and was keen to share it with the rest of us because it was advantageous to him and his party, Sinn Fein. An Phoblacht told us a truth through their video (a usually media savvy member of the Policing Board [Gerry Kelly] losing his temper with the police), but then overlaid it with a narrative that did not fit the evidence they had provided in their own video.
In a connected world it pays to remember that once you make certain social data public it cannot safely be rescinded, reprimanded or remaindered. That’s because in this world of multiple perspectives as my colleague John Kellden has noted, the audience has joint ownership of the frames which surround that data.
And they, as much as you, get to choose which data is relevant and which is not. That means understanding that you no longer control all the gates. And, at some level, you need to have a higher regard for and a more simple means of telling your truth.
Footnote: This is the territory I cover in my work with Slugger Consults. I’m working on a new set of courses and workshops that will be available in the Autumn, so keep an eye out for it.
If you are to hear more, drop me a line: [email protected]
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty