Like many I have observed (and participated in) the downfall of the News of the World over the last few days. It cannot be denied that this would never have happened so quickly ten years ago. Indeed, I don’t think it would have happened at all had social media not created such a vibrant, responsive environment for co-ordinating action. The advertisers withdrew their financial support for the newspaper due to overwhelming action on Twitter & Facebook that made campaigning so easy. Firstly, the top advertisers were listed in a process that ‘went viral.’ Secondly, the advertisers’ Twitter names, email addresses and phone numbers were distributed with ruthless effectiveness. All that was required of those who felt strongly was a tweet, an e-mail or a phone call. And for those determined to have their voice heard- all three. Done in a matter of minutes. The use of #hashtagging made the whole process so straightforward, a timeline could be a relentless feed of further prompts, news updates on the advertisers’ positions and identification of the next series of targets (e.g. newsagent chains). I ‘phoned one such chain who (when they had chance to get back to me) said they were inundated with calls and e-mails. So- what can we learn from all this?
Firstly there are many in the Christian world who are sceptical about the benefits of social media. It is true that it can be a distracting time waster, that it may not last forever and that it can be difficult to get started in engaging with the media savvy community. My observation over the last couple of years is that social media (especially Twitter) has become the ‘City gate’ of our society. It’s where people exchange ideas, challenge assumptions and talk about the most urgent issues of the day. Just as the ‘City gate’ of Jerusalem was a place the influential ignored at their peril, so we should be enthusiastically encouraging engagement by Christians across the land.
Secondly we, the Christian community, have often been poor at pooling our social capital and using it to good effect for campaigning on issues. This is of course fraught with danger. We must choose our issues carefully with wisdom and grace. We should be prepared to reach out to those who don’t share our faith with whom we have a common view on a particular campaigning front. And we shouldn’t let our occasional disagreements with each other stop us from working tirelessly together when we can.
Lack of engagement demonstrates a lack of care. It’s time we used what we have to make a difference for our society.