Monday, 10 January 2011

Netrooting around London

On Saturday, hundreds of 'activists' - of a variety of ages, shapes and political creeds - piled into the TUC in Bloomsbury to listen, talk and discuss - as well as tweet, blog and video - the role of 'new media' in building campaigns. Billed as Netroots UK the conference was backed by the TUC as well as a whole range of bloggers and progressive online campaigners - eg Clifford Singer (False Economy and The Other Taxpayers Alliance), Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy, Anna Nolan of the Robin Hood Tax Campaign and Chris Coltrane of UK Uncut among many others.

By the way - if you aren't yet a fan of UK Uncut, have a look at its website, which gives the lie to the theory that if people are on the web, they aren't campaigning in the streets!

I was there, and my pre-event anticipation was evenly balanced. On the one side hoping that this was going to be the beginning of a major drive to use on-line campaigning in the drive against the ConDemNation, and on the other, fearing that it would descend into either futile hand-wringing, or the sectarian infighting so common when the left get together. It was, of course, none of these. Although there were attempts by some to lead us down the road to the People's Front of Judea - the conference sensibly resisted that, and indeed the other option of turning into a 'lefty wankfest' predicted by one of the more cynical of my TU colleagues here in Scotland.

Helped by the aim being more about identifying how different media can assist in campaigns and what they are good for, the conference spent most time in workshops looking at particular campaigns and use of specific tools - the use of Twitter during student occupations to 'widen the room' and deliver information from within the occupations minute-by-minute impressed me greatly, as did the use of Google maps to spread the information on where the police were 'kettling' demonstrators during the tuition fees demos!

Twittering was going on apace during the sessions, and identified strengths and weaknesses. I had a conversation with a friend I hadn't known was at the event Indeed I never actually found him in the flesh!), but it was also used to comment on sessions as we experienced them and often overplayed the 'cynical hack' persona. Why is it the journos too often think that they should be the only ones whose view of issues is valuable?

It also struck me that there is really nothing new under the sun. The session on getting your message across to the wider media was so like a short media training course I expected Mary Maguire to appear! (we got Kevin Maguire instead). Likewise the need to plan your campaign, set your targets and be aware of your weaknesses. Nigel Stanley's (TUC) analysis of arguments we have so far failed to win, was much more useful than Sunder Katwala's (Fabian Soc) superficial  '30% are for us, 30% are against us'.

Ultimately the day also avoided the error of trying to put all our campaigning eggs in the digital basket. On-line is an increasingly important challenge to the mainstream media and should be used more - especially by those of us who don't think that mainstream reports us fairly. But it is not a substitute for face-to-face contact (any more than print is). We need to use it. So why were there so few delegates there from the (UK) Trade Unions - especially their Comms teams?

No comments:

Post a Comment