Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Undoubtedly, social media is part of mainstream political culture. In Britain alone, there are 31.5m Facebook users and 15m people on Twitter. The sheer level of online activity necessitates large organisations, such as government departments, establishing their own presence on social media. The CIA, the United States of America’s main spy agency, recently began tweeting from their Twitter account.
The main power of social media is to provide a platform for citizens to voice their opinions, and coalesce around shared goals. The most popular social media sites are usually free for their users, allowing citizens to link with their compatriots through an internet connection. Unsurprisingly, an authoritarian convulsion of overbearing governments is to cut access to social media, as the Egyptian government did in 2011.
It is easy for users to coalesce around simple goals, such as sharing photos, retweeting articles and signing petitions. A recent campaign by feminist Caroline Criado-Perez and group Missing Mothers was to place mothers’ names on marriage certificates. The Change.org petition for this simple change, correcting an historic iniquity, has received over 67,000 signatures, with the link to the petition posted over 14,000 times on Facebook and tweeted more than 2,000 times on Twitter.
(Video: Black White)
Brighton MP Caroline Lucas’ Early Day Motion had (at the time of writing) 105 signatures, after MPs were urged to sign it on social media. Thanks to this online campaigning, coupled with the offline work by groups such as Missing Mothers, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said in answer to a Commons question from Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies:
When these rules were first set in 1837, equality was just not a priority for our society. Thankfully, today it is. These are just the kind of changes we are looking at.
Social media, due to the ease of creating and sharing content, has proven an excellent tool for fundraising. In six days, the trend of posting self-taken photographs with no make-up and a small donation had raised over £8m for Cancer Research UK. Cancer fundraiser Stephen Sutton’s final photograph, display a thumbs-up from a hospital bed, was shared widely across social media. Mr Sutton’s fundraising page received about £4.2m for Teenage Cancer Trust, after an original goal of £1m. 11,000 tweets had been sent with the hashtag #ThumbsUpForStephen, and Mr Sutton had accepted an MBE award shortly before his passing.
Politicians are utilising digital marketing for their own goals. Barack Obama’s Presidential win in 2008 is commonly attributed to online campaigning. Arianna Huffington, Editor-in-Chief at The Huffington Post, said: “Were it not for the internet, Barack Obama would not be president. Were it not for the internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee.”
The British Labour Party is developing a sophisticated social media strategy. A recent campaign involved users entering their name, date of birth, email and postcode in order to approximately calculate their ‘NHS baby number’. This campaign harvests emails and constituencies, whilst users to feel positively about the NHS, and consequently Labour.
This new era is already upon us.
Do donate: Other charities, such as The Rainbow Centre for Children, Woking & Sam Beare Hospices and Momentum, would be equally grateful of a viral surge in donations. As a disclaimer, I ran the Bath Half-marathon in order to raise money for The Rainbow Centre for Children.