(So what do you think of David Cameron then Gordon?)
So the UK televised Leaders Debates have now finished. I have to say, it's been a blast. Not because they were good television (after the first one and the surprise Clegg factor they quickly reverted to saying the same things), but because of the back-channel on twitter. In 2008 I suggested that the Eurovision song contest was the perfect TV twitter event because
"It is, in fact, quite boring (none of the songs are any good), so there is plenty of time to Twitter. At the same time, it is quite enjoyable and provokes comment, so there is a desire to share. And you know that it is a communal event, so others will be watching too."
The same might be said of the leaders debates. Having the back channel has been endlessly amusing and inventive with twitpics, hashtags, videos and jokes being shared in real time. It has also been very informative as people have challenged the views represented and sought out facts and shared these.
Over at the BBC Rory Cellan-Jones suggests that
"So far, it's been a much better election for the mainstream media - or the "MSM" as they're described by an often contemptuous blogosphere - than you might have expected. The bloggers hoped they would boss this campaign, breaking stories, setting the mood, and leaving the flat-footed old media types trailing in its wake."
The alternative is also true - ask yourself this, could you really function as a political journalist (or academic) and not have followed this election on twitter? I'm with John Naughton who argues that:
"One of the more comical aspects of the current UK election is the way ‘old’ media (newspapers and broadcast TV) gloated about how they had ‘transformed’ the election from the venerable two-party slugfest into a supposedly more open contest. There’s a note of triumphalism here: “see”, the dinosaurs are braying, “for all this talk of an ‘online election’, the impact of the Net, social networking, twitter etc. it’s really going to be decided by older, tried-and-trusted media”. There may be a lot of cyberchatter on Twitter and Facebook, the political editors jeer, but it’s not showing up on the doorstep."
I think the effects of social networking are quite subtle. I'm not naive, I know that the majority of UK voters aren't on twitter, but this is still fairly new. How will that look at the next election? The thing about social networks is that they are difficult to manipulate. Like John Gilmore's quote about the internet, something similar can be said:
"Social networks dissipate direct pressure and push back"
This means it is much more difficult to manipulate people in a network the way the broadcast media can be manipulated. It requires more energy and when you apply that pressure the network pushes back (usually with sarcastic humour and parody, which is the politicians worst enemy).
So while old media may be congratulating themselves, they have missed the point. This is the election that marked the beginning of the end of their power, they just haven't noticed it. I am reminded of a quote from the (not particularly good) film Deep Impact, in which the President, as played by Morgan Freeman, says to the plucky reporter:
"it might seem that we have each other over the same barrel, but it just seems that way."