Most traditional newspapers, magazines and journals view anything internet as the enemy. Online platforms have turned upside down print press advertising and distribution models; caused some, like the Houston Press and over 100 major US metro dailies to close, and the New York Times to put some of its content behind a paywall. (as a side note the NYT has been hazy about the paywall idea – it appears now content will be limited to a set number of articles per week, which as any savvy ‘geek’ will know can be bypassed through IP proxy servers)
While the print, and to some extent TV, media have been lamenting in editorials and articles their hardships, they have been lax in reporting a real shift in community based activism, of which the base is social media. Hence some surprise and delight in reading the head editorial in the May 19th Times Colonist – People Power in Social Media – yes, our local Victoria record has noted what many grass roots organization knew since the rise of Facebook and Twitter.
The internet was heralded as the ultimate tool for democracy. In the nearly twenty years, for those old enough to be semi-coherent in the late ’80’s and early 90’s, the dream was worldwide open access to ideas (mainly Western) which would foster revolutions against dictatorships, and entrenched interests. Largely that has not occurred, but the fear is prevalent – hence the continuing censorship and online access restrictions in China, Iran et al. (more on the internet and society from the Berkman Center) That fear should be reflected back at western governments, where the rise of social media and largely free CMS platforms, like WordPress, are creating actionable grass roots movements – and, yes, the US Tea parties (disconcerting, sometimes racist, often ill informed) are an example. Locally – Victoria and BC, social media have provided organizational and media platforms for a wide variety of issue groups in the past year, and governments should be aware what this implies.
As the Times Colonist editorial notes:
There is more. Not that many months ago, the notion that we couldn’t fight city hall still seemed to hold true. Regardless, the forces opposed to the replacement of the Johnson Street Bridge pushed ahead with a document known as a counter-petition, even though eight similar drives had failed in the previous nine years.
The result? The group collected almost 50 per cent more names than it needed. Council’s plan to tear down the Blue Bridge has been halted, pending a referendum.
We are witnessing a dramatic shift in the balance of power — a shift that is based on communication.
The balance of power has always supposed to have been in the hands of the voters. Now the tools to make the voice of the voters paramount are available, and being used. Single issue campaigns – BC HST (Facebook 136.000 members), Johnson Street Bridge, Sewage are notable in that they have all started from social media (interested people connecting), and quickly organized using not only the same platforms, but the same model – ie: provide the tools, the information and the support – and allow others to act. (especially in the anti-HST lobby)
The real shift is not the online organizations – it is those groups of disparate individuals and groups coming together in meetings and rallies. There is still a reality to action: 1500 people showing up in Victoria to protest proroguing Parliament is an indication, same is true of 15.4% of Victoria residents signing a petition against the plans for the Johnson Street Bridge; the over 300 000 who have signed a petition against the HST. (for those reading from outside Victoria or BC going ‘what’? – think of a local issue, and how your neighbours are organizing)
The ultimate shift will be future elections. Candidates who embrace social media, understand the potentials and pitfalls, and who do not view the online world as a secondary media game to get elected.
The Times Colonist has the final word…
Today, individuals have a tremendous amount of power, and politicians and businesses who ignore this power do so at their own peril. Politicians who are not good at communicating their ideas — such as the provincial ones with the HST, or the municipal ones with the bridge — need to catch up, and fast.
The provincial government cannot simply ignore the 500,000 names on the anti-HST petition. If it does, it will open the door to recall campaigns in the fall.
There have been 20 recall attempts so far; 19 failed and the 20th was ended when the MLA resigned. But that was back in the stone age, effectively.
Voters are mad. The volunteers are ready to go — and social networking would surely bring more out to the fight.
The rules have changed permanently, and every elected B.C. Liberal needs to acknowledge the pressure he or she faces as a result.