In generations past, when aroused to anger over an injustice, people would protest. They’d take to the streets in massed crowds carrying placards, barricade buildings and roads, stop traffic, occupy selected offices and generally disrupt things to draw attention to their campaign.
Often, but not exclusively, these were young idealistic people. The protest movements are still strong and active, but perhaps in a different way. They range from hardened political activists to people suddenly moved to right a wrong. But their street, guerilla action is now far more likely to be online.
When Starbucks was caught out paying too little tax in most people’s judgement, they still had people with banners outside some shops and many others simply boycotted their stores. There are many coffee places, after all. But the online activity was feverish. Social media hummed with critical comments about Starbucks, so much so that they took notice and attempted to address the tax issue.
The Net of Protest
Now the web has revolutionised complaint, despite its anonymity and the big brotherism of the big net players/culprits.
You can sign online petitions. The ‘Coalition for Marriage’ gathered over a million in a very short time to try to stop the government approving same sex marriage.
You can sign a petition online directly to try to influence the government. Parliament will debate any subject that tops 100,000 signatories. Something really passionately felt but local may not achieve that number. Others will easily exceed it. Parliament responds with a debate and elected members ‘take note’ of it all.
You can write critical blogs of your own about products, services and proposals. You can comment on the damning indictments that others have published.
You can tweet and retweet adverse comments and that is the key. It’s that bad news can now be spread across the net in seconds to the lasting detriment of companies and often individuals too.
Web Surveys Can Distort Reality
Many protestors have used surveys, either real or mock, to present their opinions and claim widespread support. That was part of the game. ’90% disagree with new building plans!’ sounds convincing until you realise it may be 90% of those directly affected and living nearby, or 90% of those (carefully selected to be) asked.
Now, online that is made infinitely easier. Rod Liddle writing in the Sunday Times Magazine (10 March 2013) responded to a petition by an organisation called 38 Degrees. He admitted to little knowledge of details about woodlands, woods and copses that may or may not be sold off by a government plan, but clicked anyway in outrage.
His split second contribution was also done by 160,000 others, and lo and behold, the government conceded and abandoned the original plans. Success for democracy, naturally!
But statistics can prove anything. Similar surveys have found that 55% of people ‘strongly disagreed’ that capital punishment for crimes such as murder should be reintroduced. This is in sharp contrast to most instant street polls done after another horrific child or police officer murder, or done among older groups, when the majority wants death for killers.
Liddle made the point that the government ‘in giving way to online demands that required the expenditure of one microjoule of energy’ were grossly misreading people’s actual thoughtful commitment to an issue when it is so easy to participate in ‘the vote’. Think alleged talent shows on TV, how many people vote on talent rather than media hype?
So, with the ease of this form of expressing opinion, should governments and councils actually take any notice? And if so, what number would constitute enough to change policy? A million hits on an amusing YouTube video is just a by the way sort of public comment.
Would a million hits against an NHS plan, schools arrangements, new airport/road/flood scheme actually reflect real opinion?
Let us know. We’ll be setting up an online poll on it soon, and will present the results (whatever they are) as a new shock/horror revelation!
Make some noise about:
The Internet Has Created a New Frontier in Lite-Tax Paying, 29 October 2012
The Way We Live is Exposed in Statistics, Data and Real Opinions, 7 January 2013
21st Century Electioneering and High-Tech Obama Vote Grabbing, 13 November 2012
Image: Andy Wright