Lessons from MyDavidCameron and Socialist Unity

3rd February, 2010 10:59 pm

By Alex Smith / @alexsmith1982

Further to my article in which I argued there are now two different types of web activity – communication and organisation – Socialist Unity‘s Andy Newman and MyDavidCameron‘s Clifford Singer have written up their own lessons for the online left, as delivered last Saturday at the Progressive London conference.

Andy says:

“My view is that politics takes place at three levels: the day to day interaction with voters; the discussion and organising of activists; and the strategic debate. The Internet affects all three domains of discussion.”

It’s a similar thesis to mine, but Andy expands the idea:

“Today the possibilities for strategic debate are encouraged by the way the Internet break down the barriers, and also makes control of information very difficult for leadership cliques; and of course allows people to explore their ideas non-attributively.”

“I think that the change we need to see can only be assisted by the internet providing the arguments, the debate and the information. But influence comes from the power to effect what people do in the real world; whether that power comes from economic and financial control, public office, ability to turn out enough votes to win elections, diplomacy and alliances; or indeed industrial and trade union muscle.”

Clifford Singer has come up with five major lessons from the success of his MyDavidCameron website:

“1 – Concept is everything:
Since the success of MyBarackObama.com there’s been a tendency to do a kind of Obama-by-numbers. First you’re asked to support some kind of online action – maybe a petition to your MP. Then you’re taken to another screen asking you to enter 10 friends’ names so they can be contacted. Sometimes you’re left wondering whether the original action had any significance at all, or whether it was just a convenient hook to harvest more contacts.

2 – Twitter matters:
We launched MyDavidCameron by tweeting about it to our Other TaxPayers’ Alliance Twitter account – with a modest 400 followers. But very quickly the number of Twitter hits was overtaken by Facebook, and then Facebook was overtaken by direct visits. In other words those Twitter users had spread the message to Facebook and then both sets of users had spread it to the wider online world via good old fashioned email. Some might even have told others verbally.

3 – Crowd sourcing is good:
Even the automatic generators were crowdsourced. LabourList supplied the first one, but when that crashed under too much bandwidth pressure, other volunteers provided their own. Now the tables have turned. The generators get so much traffic that they send us visitors rather than vice versa.

4 – Crowd sourcing is bad:
When we appealed for posters, what we wanted was high-minded satire about deficit reduction. What we got were hundreds of images of Cameron saying, and sometimes doing, unspeakable things. Some were funny, most weren’t.

5 – Political satire is difficult:
We must beware of too many top hats and crass caricatures. We saw how Labour’s clumsy attempts to harness this issue backfired during the 2008 Crewe byelection.

Both Andy’s article and Clifford’s are worth reading in full. The most important analysis will, of course, come after May.



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