Digital Revolution – The Power of Ones and Zeros
As the UK’s general election has drawn closer, issues regarding the relevance of online social networking and the influence of online opinion have grown proportionately.
The politicians are fully aware that reputations are being forged or indeed flattened by judgements being made and disseminated online.
The poster campaign for the Conservative Party’s leader, David Cameron, is a perfect example. Cameron’s face was scaled up to Brobinnagian proportions with an expression that was meant to represent empathy and sincerity. Big mistake…
Almost as soon as the billboards went up around the UK, messageboards bristled with discussions about whether the photo had been airbrushed. Since transparency was central to his pre-election drive, even the idea that his image had been doctored was damage to the cause.
Then there was the message running across the rest of the poster. Spelled out in Helvetica, it was designed to get his ideas of straightforward but effective change in the simplest of terms. Unfortunately, it was also simple enough for some anonymous design wag to parody an emulator page on the internet.
Mydavidcameron.com went viral within minutes. Now anyone and everyone could put words into Cameron’s mouth.
Of course, the irony wasn’t wasted.
Labour leader and current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, pledged plans to give every home in the UK access to super-fast broadband. Brown called high-speed web access "the electricity of the digital age" which "must be for all – not just for some".
Not to be upstaged, the Conservatives unveiled a ‘technology manifesto’, pledging to give Britain the fastest high-speed broadband network in Europe.
Of course, the real battleground was amongst those who were already deeply ensconced in this digital democracy.
Kerry McCarthy, Labour's media campaigns spokeswoman, said “We really have to look beyond the billboards, the party political broadcasts, the newspapers and mainstream channels." This equated to the heavyweight political forum …er, Mumsnet.
The idea that a digital caucus of mothers might influence the political landscape created mirth at first. Until, journalists and political analysts scratched the surface.
According to The Telegraph, “users of the eponymous website are a savvy, opinionated, no-nonsense mix of working and stay-at-home mothers with views that matter on just about everything.”
Messageboard of choice to British ‘Alpha-Mummies’, the membership is reputed to be 850,000 strong and therefore politicians ignore them at their peril.
Indeed says a columnist in the New Statesman, “It was the defection of women from the Tories that handed power to Labour in 1997, and that secured the party's re-election in 2001 and 2005.”
But aside from the to-and-fro of ideologies, one fact cannot be ignored. It emerged that there are now more people signed up to Facebook in the UK than voted in the last general election – 24 million as opposed to the 23 million who visited the polling stations.
Indeed, it was Barack Obama, now the President of the United States of America, whose strategists first identified this new potential for campaigning and galvanised the online community through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to win the 2008 US Election.
What was once termed ‘new media’ is now reaching maturity, evidence of that can be seen through a recent study by market research firm Nielsen Claritas. They found evidence to suggest that there’s actually a class divide between users of social networking sites.
Nielsen found that people in more affluent demographics are 25% more likely to be found friending on Facebook, while the less affluent are 37% more likely to connect on MySpace. However, users at the top of the affluent pyramid are more likely to use Twitter, the new home of the chattering classes.
It seems the only loser in this digital Diaspora is MySpace owner Rupert Murdoch, whose company News Corp lost $500m when people defected across the digital divide.