Bloggers think ‘No, but it can probably lose it’
Last week’s elections and the political fallout have placed in context, for me, the event I went to at the Frontline Club on 28 May about how the Internet might play a part in the next election. The participants were:
- Iain Dale, Conservative blogger at Iain Dale’s Diary
- Alex Smith, recently appointed Editor of the LabourList.org
- Adam Boulton, Political Editor, Sky News (Chair)
- Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes)
- Matthew Macgregor of Blue State Digital (the company that worked for the Obama campaign
I made contemporaneous notes and also some Audioboo content which is available here. A bit of background to the event here:
Everyone in ‘Broadcast Mode’ needs to ‘get with the program’
Iain Dale (pictured left) believes that the internet will impact individual MPs (mostly through revealing things they don’t want revealed I suspect) but that the overall ‘systemic’ effect of the internet will be small.
He agrees that the next General Election will be the first where mobile phones and social media will really begin to play a part and where bloggers will cause changes in the news cycle:
“We get more hits every day than all the 3 main parties put together”
He said referring to the traffic generated by his blog and by Guido Fawkes’.
The problem is the main parties are in ‘Broadcast Mode’ and that given British politics is driven by ‘controlling the message’ the level of interactivity of social media is a challenge. As Matthew Macgregor said “The internet is a tactic not a strategy” and that it lowers the barriers to communication (especially inbound to the Party) but how real is the commitment to ‘openness and transparency’. The reaction of the media to policy discussions driven by social media will, Matthew believes, be instructive; will the shutters come down once the media starts talking about ‘splits’.
“There’s nothing to click on other than ‘Unsubscribe'” – Matthew Macgregor
Alex Smith believes that “The Internet will play a crucial role in the next election” – he mentions viral video and the possibility of debate being shaped by the internet. He argues that the internet has “already effectively removed one of the Prime Minister’s closest political aides” and that the next election will to some extent be driven by stories that will “break on the web”. Alex believes that Paul and Iain have a huge impact on the media cycle and thinks that this will be an important factor. All the panelists agreed that the Internet strategies of the main parties were poor at best.
Boulton’s shock hashtag confession
At one point when talking about social media and the internet Adam Boulton said he didn’t know what a hashtag was (and I don’t think he was joking!) and references to the internet seemed to feel like references to some kind of monolithic bloc. Alex picked up the point that realtime interaction driven by things like Twitter might be important. Adam seemed to think that a Sky news team would always be faster on the ground.
The next Boo starts with the voices of Alex Smith (interesting references to Alan Johnson) and then Iain Dale. I round off with a few thoughts.
The next Boo has ‘reportage’ – skip it if you feel you have enough of a flavour from the text above.
Reflections and implications
The format worked well with a fairly formal panel session followed by various panelists joining tables and moving between courses. The informal part of the event was really good – we had Iain Dale and Alex Smith and the comments and discussion were very engaging.
The event would have been improved by a more discursive (and less ‘Question Time’) approach by the chair. Also, having a chair who seemed quite cheerful to admit that he didn’t ‘get’ the internet seems odd – but then presumably Adam ‘Hashtag’ Boulton was a draw for the ‘punters’ (especially the non-geeks)! All in all though a minor criticism.
There were two main things I took away to think about:
- The importance of internet aggregation in realtime and increasing symmetry of communication,
- The potential for independent candidates to harness the power of the internet to disintermediate the major parties.
More thoughts in the next Audioboo: