This is a blog post I have sat on for two months without publishing it. Mostly because of the overly saturated market for end of year review blog posts in January, but mostly to allow myself time to think of what was actually worthy of remembrance on Twitter in 2015.
This post discusses the 5 Twitter campaigns that had the most immediate or longstanding impact in British politics. From high politics, to a simple longstanding internet joke. These campaigns have had a wider impact on British society – all from a collective of tweets of about 140 characters or less.
November – December
Although attached to a terrible atrocity in Paris, this hashtag resonated deep within the social United Kingdom public. The #JeSuisParis hashtag could be argued as one of the true times, if not the first time, that a hashtag has influenced United Kingdom foreign policy, with the public showing distain for what happened in Paris, and turning this into political capital towards bombing in Syria.
The hashtag has its roots in an earlier terrorist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on the 7th January 2015. The worldwide response started with the hashtag of #JeSuisCharlie (translated: I am Charlie). The response was huge, with the use of the hashtag appearing 6,500 times per minute. However, this earlier hashtag was distinctly different than JeSuisParis – it was a protest against those wanting to disrupt free speech and to mourn those who had been killed in the attacks. It was a symbol that France in particular was, and will remain, a place for the freedom of the press, and the freedom of speech – regardless of terrorism. However it laid the foundations for #JesSuis, and was a demonstration that one hashtag can contain more than one message. In this instance mourning and the protection of the freedom of speech.
#JesuisParis was a hashtag that seemed more targeted. It remained mournful, but in this instance the secondary message was, in layman terms, that ISIS sucked. This terrorist attack felt more like an act of war on the west, while other countries feared this was the beginning of a wave of attacks on European cities such as Berlin, London, and Madrid. People were angry at terrorism; #JesuisParis was a rallying cry for the defence of values, and in some instances, revenge.
The attack, and the sentiment carried by the public varied from country to country. Eastern European states like Hungry had a ‘told you so’ attitude, turning this into a case against the acceptance of refugees from the Syrian civil war. In the UK, it was a chance for the public to revisit the British position on military action in Syria. David Cameron, in favour of action, was quick to make political capital out of the anti-ISIS sentiment, including that caused by Twitter that was then transferred to the traditional media channels. Just hours after the House of Commons voted in favour of bombing in December, the first RAF Tornado took off from Akrotiri Base in Cyprus towards Syria.
It all started from a single Tweet by 17 year old student Abby Tomlinson. The result was a cult-like online following under the banner of Milifandom.
It was an online campaign celebrating Ed Miliband in a way that bemused journalists, and politicians alike. This campaign was a complete unicorn, created and supported by a demographic mostly ignored by traditional media channels. This was hugely significant as it was the first major outburst by the under 18 age demographic since the support for Nick Clegg in 2010, or the following student protests.
It shows that not only are young people still politically interested, but they wish to engage with politics on their terms. That is, on a technology they understand better – with the editors not from a distant and uninterested demographic, but their peers.
I’ll try to keep this one short. Every election tends to have a technological theme. Be it televised debates in 2010, or Newspapers reporting the Gordon Riots in 1780. For the last few years people have been trying to make the last couple of elections “the internet election” or “social media election”.
Nope. Not 2015.
The Conservatives may have tried some new technology (see programmatic advertising) – that is worthy of its own blog post, and Labour may have been using Social Media effectively. However, overall people tend to live in their own societal bubbles online. Twitter especially ends in debates amongst likeminded peers, and not people who sit across the imaginary online partisan bench.
So the election was important as a social media event, not because it showed some massive shift: but because it didn’t.
Piggate was the hashtag that surrounded claims that in his student years, our esteemed Prime Minister once placed his pork sword into some actual pork. Simultaneously and almost immediately after the Daily Mail posted the story #piggate, #snoutrage and #hameron all trended on Twitter. It became such an event that some employers thought the news was actually damaging workplace productivity – as everyone suddenly dropped what they was supposed to be doing in favor of trying to create the perfect Pig Puns.
Typical! David Cameron once again hogging the headlines at the Lib Dem Conference.
Piggate is an interesting event. Not because it shows the slight ‘liberal bias’ on Twitter, and not because of the potential national embarrassment caused by the head of government doing such a thing. It’s important because it shows that “a review by one’s peers online” isn’t as noble as early internet pioneers believed. That is to say, that the combined effort of people’s thoughts through internet mediated communication would lead to more accurate and well thought out overall consensus.
In the rush to get involved in exciting viral content, many people forgot to mention that the pig story originated from an ostracised Conservative peer, and long-term party donor: Lord Ashcroft. That is to say, it was funny so say someone fucked a pig; it didn’t matter if it was true because “YOLO LOL”. This is something well established in communication theory by Craig Silverman in Lies, Damn Lies, and Viral Content (2015) – this is just a massive example of it happening in Twitter.
Ethically, I am saying I, and many like me, was wrong to make a joke about it at the time. Picture this; this same story was released not about the PM, but about a head of a company or a department head of a school. Do you think they would have the political capital to stay in a tenable position? Would angry parents or stockholders critically analyse the source of the news? (Could you image making a Tweet and getting nothing but abuse?)
In sum Piggate was a perfect example of how the internet can be a complete lie factory, and overall complete unfair bastard. Although the Daily Mail broke the news, it was the hashtag trends that brought it to the attention of the mass public. The real importance of this event wasn’t the potential that the Prime Minister fucked a pig, it was because Piggate was a perfect example of how we all forget how to be critical and ethical online, because LOL RIGHT?
This is actually pretty significant, it shows that the political representatives that are funnily inept at social media is coming to an end. No more laughing at MPs as the movement towards the professionalization of Tweets takes hold. Which is sad, as although people complained about MP’s being “unprofessional”, it also means an end of getting to know political representatives in a personal way. Like media appearances, Tweets and other social media posts are going to be just as highly polished.
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