This article has just appeared in the ever improving Green World that's landing on door mats all over the country as we speak. I thought I'd reproduce it here as it involves you lot (I'm using my text so there might be a couple of minor alterations in the magazine itself).
The internet is a powerful educational tool that is changing the way we access information. 'Bloggers', writing in the 'blogosphere' were more accurate about the outcome of the Iraq War than the Government involved in waging it. Jim Jepps looks at the potential for blogging to become a powerful green tool for democracy and campaigning.
If you think that Twitter is just the noise a bird makes and social networking means getting another round in making that first step into using the internet as an effective campaigning tool can be daunting. For many the stereotype of a Blogger is someone in the early hours of the morning furiously typing out irate messages whilst dressed only in their underpants. However, this is only 90% of the story.
Most of us know that the net is important but answering the questions of how and why is much more difficult. So even when we do set up a site or Facebook group it sits there neglected and unloved, of no real use to anyone, when it should be making an impact with real people in the real world.
It’s not that long since the web began to transform itself into a utility that almost everyone could use. Gone are the days when you needed skills and money to set up a workable and half decent website. Companies like Blogger and Wordpress can provide easy to use free templates that allow anyone to set up a site. It’s no longer the case that someone needs to know how to code in order to gain a workable web presence.
That has meant there has been a flowering of discussion and ideas on the net with people being able to connect to resources, engage in debate and learn about events both near and far in a way that was never before possible. This means the web has become a vital political tool that we ignore at our peril, but that very newness has meant sometimes it takes experimentation to get things right.
That blossoming pluralism is both its strength but also why traditional political campaigns have found it difficult to utilise properly because they’re too centrally directed, too distrusting of their members to give them free reign.The decentralised ethic of the Green Party fits the new technology like a glove if only we are ready to embrace it. This redistribution of resources and ideas allows activists to download materials in a cheap and easy way and persuade armchair sympathisers that there is something they can do about the things they feel passionately about.
It is possible to reach and mobilise wider audiences in a far more immediate way. The Green Party election broadcast was seen by far more people than those who happened to catch it on TV because we had it available for anyone with access to the net at a time of their choosing. More than that it meant that in places like Norwich they could produce their own broadcast, featuring local candidates and focusing on particular local issues at almost zero cost. That’s phenomenal and something we can direct towards both electoral work and taking on the issues that matter to us directly.
Whether it’s mobilising against George Bush, distributing window posters or building support for an emergency campaign, used in the right way the web can help us make a real impact. But it’s also true that a lot of effort that we put into our web presence is time poorly spent.
If you look at Facebook for instance, a site that’s the subject of contempt and adulation alike, it’s difficult to use well in this context. The Green Party has an excellent supporters’ page with over a thousand members and continuous, interesting discussions but it also has some rather lacklustre and underused pages that were set up purely on the basis that it’s so easy to do.
Usually these pages are for local candidates that are just too small to keep up a decent momentum, which means even a lively campaign can become associated with a page that gives the appearance that there is far less support out there than there really is. We should not be afraid to delete these pages. Facebook can be a useful tool when directed at issues that people want to debate passionately, but seems to have less purchase when it comes to gathering support for Parliamentary candidates.
Whilst we should always recognise that spreading the word on the net is no substitute for "real world" campaigning, especially for those without the time or inclination for the web this ability to talk to people direct, without having to go through the mediating lens of the media, is something that could potentially transform our ability to campaign effectively, cheaply, and in a environmentally friendly way.
We even need to explore and engage with services like twitter (that provides updates direct to your friends/family/supporters) and play to the strengths of online social networking - which is a bottom up and pluralist approach, organised and run by the very people who use it. We can reach out to a wider progressive community who are open to our ideas if only we take that step that allows them in.