Social networking and journalism: Power to the people?

By Julie Tomlin and Sirena Bergman

How have Facebook, Twitter and blogs changed changed grassroots politics? This was the question tackled at the club on Tuesday, at an event moderated by Deborah Bonello, founder of and video journalist for the Financial Times.

If you couldn’t be with us for this event, you can watch the whole thing here:

Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy, cited social media scrums such as the Twitter campaign following Jan Moir’s comments in the Daily Mail about Boyzone singer Stephen Gately; complaints over a BBC World Service messageboard asking if homosexuals should be executed and the campaign to stop Rod Liddle becoming editor of the Independent as examples of how social media can be used to mobilise support on an issue.

But Mike Harris, director of the Libel Reform Campaign, said that these were "quick wins": "Social media is very effective in short term campaigns but it hasn’t converged around a single nexus in the longer term," he said. "I’m concerned that the power of the quick win comes to dominate."

His suggestion that social media would only "come of age" when campaigns were influencing the detail of legislation was disputed by Benjamin Chesterton of Duckrabbit who argued that "It goes far beyond minutiae of policy – therer are so many things beyond politics and policy that people are getting involved in."

Sina Motalebi, of BBC Persian TV, was imprisoned for 23 days in Tehran’s Evin prison and released after thousands of people signed an online petition argued against reducing "social media to our political expectations". Responding to the suggestion that Western media had over-hyped the impact of Twitter in the protests following last year’s Presidential election, Motalebi said:

I don’t think it was unsuccessful in Iran.I know some Iranians are disappointed and are asking this fast-moving buzz, did it change anything?  It has: it brought the exclusive power away from the media. I don’t think it can change a government but it can change some of the characteristics of a society and open things up for people whose day job is to create change.