Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Possibly the single most stupid article ever written on how social media changes politics.

I've a fairly old 'don't fisk - it's rude' rule that I need to break because I may has stumbled upon the single most stupid article about how social media changes politics - the author claims to have had 100+ re-tweets - a commentary in itself on the quality of what spreads (as in 'if it doesn't spread it's dead') and the claims made in the article about the aptitude of the 'new governing body in town' to make sense of ... well ... anything.

It is, quite simply, the work of a fantasist. Let's just take this section as an illustration
Why Governments Fear Social Media – the Demise of Representational Democracy
When David Cameron, UK Prime Minister announced the Government were in talks with Twitter and Blackberry and so on to stop or block social media re organised riots, it wasn’t because the Government truly believes social media is the cause of unrest and should be stopped. 
Mr Cameron said talks were to be held with companies such as Twitter, BlackBerry and Facebook, as well as the intelligence services, to discuss actions that could limit their reach, to help prevent further disorder. Social networks were widely used by gangs to co-ordinate the riots across the country. 
He wasn’t just ignoring the fact that Twitter was also being used to do cleanup. No sirree, it was the fact the #riotcleanup hashtag was potentially even more devastating than the riots itself to his Parliament. 

OK. Let's break there for our first WTF? Representational (sic) Democracy? And "the #riotcleanup hashtag was potentially even more devastating than the riots itself to his Parliament"?  There's another one coming:
Why? Because communities only self organise when the incumbent organisers are ineffective (read: worthless). If the Police and Local Councils aren’t fixing the situation, then we will: thus spake the People. And once the People figure out they can self organise using online community tools, millions of people, why do we need Councils and Taxes?  From FixMyStreet to CatchALooter, we’ll sort it out ourselves, thanks very much.

Yes. That's exactly what happened. There was a riot, and then, once it was over, the cleanup was co-ordinated and completed entirely on a voluntary basis by active citizens using Twitter. The state stepped aside from this task, and - in addition - read-write media also went about catching, charging and convicting the perps.

Or more accurately, the response was largely similar to the riots in the early 1980s. Most of the cleanup was done by public sector employees and their contractors. Some was done or paid for by the property holders, their friends and families, often funded from their insurance claims. Some was done by the kind of active citizens who always turn out on occasions like this.

No question, a very large number of people relayed the sentiment on Twitter and factoring out the clicktivism, some of them turned up to help out because they were encouraged to do so by their peers on social media. Some of the people who would have done it anyway bragged about it on social media. All in all, the impact on the cleanup from social media was a nice feelgood story, some extra elbow-grease, and some a good bit of help, but the backbone? Hardly.

More to the point, "communities only self organise when the incumbent organisers are ineffective (read: worthless)." I've picked up nothing from commentary around the #riotcleanup to suggest that the participants believed that the clean-up wouldn't have happened without them.

It was more of an act of social solidarity than a model for any kind of Kropotkinite self-government. And with Cameron's attempt to redefine the traditional functions of the state into The Big Society, the idea that he would be uncomfortable with any of this is the opposite of the truth.

I'm not quite sure what role FixMyStreet played in any of this either. FMS is a tool that MySociety created to help people report low-level environmental issues (broken paving slabs, graffiti, etc) to a local authority. Think of it as a phone that doesn't take as long to use.

I'm not belittling FMS - it's a lot better designed than the system on most council websites and they usually (but not always) don't pay anything to get the benefit of it (it uses an open source business model where you pay for bespoke integration). My local council has integrated it into their system and then routinely ignore messages anyone leaves on it.

FMS is a good example of very narrow aspects of the state's role being done initially on a voluntary basis in a way that could be better than the state's own efforts. But that's all.

Fix My Street takes it's name from a request to The Man. As in "please The Man, use my tax-money and your legitimacy to Fix My Street" It doesn't fix streets. It asks the "ineffective" and "worthless" agencies of the state to do 100% the job in a way that voluntary action will rarely do.

Anyway. I'll leave you with this final nugget, for which all comment is superfluous:
NOTE: Representational (sic) Democracy arose in the time when a village nominated a runner to run around Ancient Greece to the big towns to cast a vote for the smaller community. Email and online voting does that a bit quicker these days. Do we really need a “representative” to collect our views and then filter them?  Must get back to Plato & The Republic one of these days.
David Cameron wasn’t being disingenuous. He was saving the political process as he knows it. Too little, too late in my book.
The rest of the article is as idiotic as this bit, but I'm out of time now. As we social media gurus say, "*facepalm*." :-/

No comments: