Online activism – social media monster or force for chance?

In The Times yesterday I couldn’t help but be grabbed by the article by @ROSAPRINCEUK with the headline Social media monster could devour Corbyn.

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It backed up the point I often make that online public relations for a divisive entity or to support a cause or for ‘online activism’ can be a double edged sword. It either is destructive force or a driving motivation for change.

Social media can be used to make a point. Rosa uses the example of Corbyn encouraging people to take to Twitter to share their heart warming stories about junior doctors. It’s a clever move given the current climate but, let’s leave the politics out of this and focus on the powerful use of PR for change.

The #theyarethedoctorswho hashtag was used over 20,000 times and almost overtook the insane ramblings of hip-hop rapper Kanye West. This surge of support is powerful, people have actively gone online to take part, engage and share. It’s obviously a topic close to so many people’s hearts and it’s well timed on Corbyn’s part as he’s called for this ‘online activism’ at a time when emotions are still running high.

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As you can see people were tweeting some very powerful and emotive messages.

For Corbyn this is another strategic step in getting people on side and motivated enough to actually vote. It worked in the run up to his vote for the Labour Party leadership and now this is being used in a wider application to make him relatable, show him as sympathetic and fighting for the average hard working Brit on the street. Who can’t relate to that?

With this sort of endeavour though you run the gauntlet between social media being a force for bad or good. Again Rosa brings an excellent topical example to the fold, Stephen Fry. Even Fry, a national treasure, dramatically quit the Twittersphere after he made an inappropriate comment at the BAFTAS and received unprecedented backlash. It only takes one comment, or action, which doesn’t have to be online to make or break someone’s reputation. Ah, there we go PR fans, we’ve reached the heart of the matter, it’s all down to reputation again!

Now it’s already blown past as yesterdays news and I am sure it won’t be long until Stephen Fry will be back to brandish 140 characters with the best of them. But, the point to make here is that, even for the popular people of the universe, the online world can be a dangerous place. Reputation is fragile and not easily repaired as we already know. It is in these situations that PR is absolutely crucial.

At present Corbyn is harnessing social media but he’s never that far from the edge. Those that have opposed Corbyn online in the lead up to his Labour Party election have found themselves trolled and he had to make a public call for more ‘civility online’.  As you can see, it may not even be your own actions that bring you close to the edge online but those who support you too.

At the end of the day all Corbyn cares about is whether this online support gets people off their bums and to the polling station come the time that matters. If this kind of PR by social media works and becomes a motivation factor for voters then it could be a very powerful force for political change. Can social media, if harnessed in the right way, be the persuasion tool that sparks people to vote? It certainly helped Obama.

Whether Corbyn being voted in is a good force for change or a bad force for change, well that’s a different topic and debate altogether. I am not attacking either political party, I am merely using it to make a point about PR. This blog is about public relations not politics.

I also have to point out here that what Corbyn is doing here is a form of PR piggybacking, a topic I wrote about in my last blog. Corbyn is capitalising on the junior doctors strikes by engaging the public by encouraging to share their emotive experiences about junior doctors. Like many strategic political PR campaigns, he is rubbing salt in the wound of the current Government’s inability to resolve the junior doctors situation and trying to turn it in his favour to get more votes for his party. This sort of political activity is nothing new, it’s just being done through a different medium.

Online activism is the a great way to engage debate, talk and discussion on difficult topics which I hope is then harnessed to encourage positive change. However, activism in its very nature can also bring negativity, so I believe that honesty, transparency and being considerate are all key in maintaining reputation online and in most real-world situations. Social media need not be a monstrous place as long as we all take a little responsibility and think about our actions.

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One Comment on “Online activism – social media monster or force for chance?

  1. Pingback: New Years Eve round up! | Bright Lights Big City

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