There is, in the strange, blue tinted world of Twitter, a furious political campaign being carried out as I type. An organised, passionate insurgency to use micro-blogging to bring down a government. It is called ‘Cameron must go’ or, to be correct #CameronMustGo. Having become one of the top trending hashtags in the UK and, apparently, the third most popular topic on Twitter world wide, it is somewhat of a social media phenomenon. Except you won’t read that much about it in the media (meaning anything not online or more complex than a TL;DR format). Because #CameronMustgGo is being ignored by the a media that is too cosy to the establishment. Or so the theory goes.
What started out as a snappy, if not wholly original campaign criticising, largely from the left, government policies brought together under the same hashtag has, in a few days, opened up a war on a second front. Rather than just being a way of drawing attention to reasons why David Cameron is not fit to run Britain, it has become increasingly about what should, or should not, be considered news. The issue is that aside from the online arms of a few papers, there has been next to no coverage of the campaign. Those involved feel aggrieved, because as one can imagine, were a celebrity or sporting story to sustain such a high profile on social media, it would probably have been given coverage. However a political story, especially one that appears to show widespread dissatisfaction with the government, has been ignored. The BBC, as ever, appears to be a prime target. Rather unfortunately for the corporation, it has an online service, BBC Trending, designed to pick up stories gathering attention on social media. So far it, and the rest of the BBC, has failed to cover the #CameronMustGo movement (if it can be called a movement that is). Quite predictably this has lead those pushing the campaign most energetically to turn much of their attention onto the BBC and other news outlets, demanding that they ‘report the news’.
There are a few issues here that need to be addressed. Firstly, it is actually quite easy to get something trending on Twitter. While hashtags linked to global events of import will always find their way into wider circulation, it only takes a few hundred committed Twitter users to start moving a hashtag in the right direction. Once this happens, and if it is continually used, figures with large public followings (politicians, journalists, whatever Russell Brand is etc) and more left-field (no pun intended) media outlets with big social media operations, of which there are plenty, are bound to pick it up. A few mentions by such accounts and suddenly the hashtag has acquired a whole new reach. And thus it will continue to grow, quite possibly with only a relatively small number of people continually using it.
This of course, touches upon another fact about the #CameronMustGo campaign. Anyone who has met a politics bore will know that we’re an energetic bunch. People of strong opinion, on any side of the political divide, are always more vocal than those who do not, for example, care about what the latest round of Ashcroft Marginal Polls say. As it happens, current opinions polls suggest that, were the election to be held right now, David Cameron and the Conservatives would not win an overall majority in terms of seats or the popular vote. This means that actually, more voters in Britain agree than disagree with the #CameronMustGo sentiment, but most of them just don’t care enough to take to social media about it.
As mentioned, one of the main media targets for criticism has been the BBC. While it is true that the BBC’s record for covering political issues is not perfect, it seems unrealistic and a little churlish to expect it to devote coverage to a relatively small campaign on Twitter. The BBC didn’t, to my knowledge, cover the Tory’s farcical social media experiment that was ‘#Longtermeconomicplan’. Why then should it cover a largely Labour inspired campaign that has achieved little but to raise awareness of some of the coalition’s most unpalatable policies? It is interesting that the BBC once again finds itself, as it does on an almost weekly basis, accused of a political bias. Perhaps there is, as the saying goes, no smoke without fire. Certainly the Beeb has been remiss in its failure to cover large, popular protest movements in recent years and it’s presenters are often guilty of failing to question lazy stereotypes about immigrants, benefits and the economy. But equally it has excellent foreign and investigative reporting and provides a depth and breadth of news coverage that, on reflection, is quite staggering. It is easy for those of a strong political bent to forget that the BBC’s general worldview, socially liberal and economically conservative, is the same as that which has prevailed in Britain for most of the the corporation’s history. Certainly it offers reporting far superior to many, if not most state funded news outlets. One wonders if the corporation’s most vocal critics would be begging for it to return if they were forced to watch nothing but Russia Today. It is possible that, seeing as it is constantly criticised from both the right and the left, the BBC is actually striking a decent balance in a time of division.
And yet, the root of the entire argument surrounding #CameronMustGo is not whether the BBC is biased or if political campaigns on social media are newsworthy. The real question is, can such a campaign really work? Anyone who grew up during the rapid, viral growth of the web into modern life will have come across the sentiment that the internet would set us free. And in a sense it does. It provides a platform for the voiceless to speak, the oppressed to interact and the angry to shout. It brings people together and it allows for ideas to be exchanged at a rate that boggles the mind. But it is not, ultimately, a tool for real change. A social media scandal may cause an MP to resign or a company to change its ways in some slight, cosmetic way, but it will never tackle the root of an issue. In Britain, real change will involve the fall of governments and the shaking of a complacent political class. Only the ballot box will do that.