The Plastic Hippo

April 9, 2010

The revolution will not be televised

Filed under: Media,Politics — theplastichippo @ 11:58 pm

Something very interesting took place in Dudley over the Easter week-end. Now, anything actually taking place in Dudley is newsworthy but when the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism invited themselves for a punch-up, trouble was on the agenda. However, it seems that a single police officer, armed only with a mobile phone and a Twitter account, quelled the likely riot.

DCI Mark Payne of West Midlands Police was able to follow the rival groups on Twitter and was able to refute rumours of mosques being attacked and stewards being stabbed. He was then able to report in real time to other twitter users and the press. By stifling the fuel of malicious rumour, the levels of violence seen in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham and Bolton were avoided in Dudley.

So instead of being a social medium where the middle classes publish photographs of their lunch and details of the ensuing bowel movement, Twitter is a force for social good. This is confirmed by the Twitter campaign to lift the super injunction imposed by lawyers representing Trafigura who dumped a load of toxic waste on the people of Cote d`Ivoire. At about the same time, Facebook, Twitter with acne, managed to make Rage Against the Machine the Christmas number one instead of the drivel cynically exploited from the X Factor. Big business and governments became worried.

On her first visit to the United States as a newly elected Prime Minister in the very early 80`s, Margaret Thatcher was given a guided tour of the Pentagon and the concept of something called the internet was explained to her. A senior BBC correspondent following the PM on the tour recalled her reaction years later after he, and she, had retired from public life.

Apparently, a five star general explained how computers could be linked together and that, one day in the future, an almost infinite amount of information would be available to every inhabitant of the planet. Our correspondent recalls that the Iron Lady turned pale and then directed her trademark steely gaze at the then Vice President, George Bush Senior. After a pregnant pause, she is reported as saying: “Stop it…NOW!”

Thatcher was right to be frightened of the internet. Information is power and cannot be left in the hands of just anyone. Just a few days after major civil disorder was avoided in Dudley, parliament rushed through the Digital Economy Bill as part of the “wash up” process of a dying administration. The future of digital media was decided with a scant two hour debate based on ancient copyright tradition and the vested interests of long dead industries. Washed up seems particularly apt as sites like Wikileaks are likely to be closed down under the new act. Wikileaks brought us horrific footage of civilians including children and Reuters photographers being blown away by helicopter gunships even as the authorities deny the incident.

Twitter has now claimed its first parliamentary hopeful. Stuart MacLennan, who at 24, intended to represent that hotbed of political thought, Moray in the north of Scotland, made some inappropriate comments on Twitter a year ago when he was still a student. His crime was to slag off Cameron and Clegg with (OMG!) rude words. He described the elderly as “coffin dodgers”, reported on the number of chavs at Sterling station and observed that he was sober for the first time in four days. He sounds like my kind of MP. Winston Churchill was understandably drunk for most of the 40`s and his description of Clement Attlee would have embarrassed a Sterling chav.

The political parties now have a dilemma as the election approaches. They realise that the internet will for the first time have an impact on the way that people will vote, especially those of tender years who may be voting for the first time and are comfortable and expert with the technology. Politicians have to be seen to be getting down with the kids but cannot actually express an opinion on social media platforms. The fate of young Stuart in Moray will limit any meaningful engagement with the internet for fear of, heaven forbid, expressing honesty.

Here in Walsall, a handful of brave councillors started blogs and opened Twitter accounts. Sadly, it didn`t last long as the individual and accessible voices were stifled when the leadership realised that accountability was a very bad idea. The website operated by Walsall Council peddles stories that show the administration in a favourable light but is practically impenetrable when it comes to searching for relevant information. Information is power and information will not be freely available.

In 1971, the sublime Gil Scott-Heron recorded The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, thought to be the genesis of what became known as Rap. Those early pioneers of the genre gave a voice to the oppressed and the victims of injustice and the tragedy of Rap is that it developed into the only known overtly right-wing form of popular music.

Our politicians, both locally and nationally, have not grasped the fact that we are all becoming more connected. Last year, an illegal government in Iran almost fell to a popular uprising. Amid heavy censorship and a news blackout, the attempted revolution was organised using Twitter. The madmen in charge of Iran then accused the BBC of fermenting sedition by daring to report the facts. Political parties, Walsall Council and the print media should note that this tactic does not work. The genie is now out of the bottle and the indecent haste with which the Digital Economy Bill was forced into law will haunt whoever attempts to rule the country after May 6.

The revolution will not be televised, it will be Twittered.

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