When viral campaigns catch a cold

57 Labour MPs who signed an Early Day Motion opposing the new Heathrow runway demonstrates the risks associated with the over-enthusiastic use of digital media. The theory was great; come along to a website, put in your details and then, at the click of a button, you can email all 57 MPs in one hit. Simple! Greenpeace considered this campaign to be a huge success but I’m not so sure. The ease with which people could send mass emails meant that the already space challenged mailboxes of these MPs were quickly flooded. Parliament’s IT team had to step in and put measures in place to increase mailbox sizes and, eventually, to delete the emails (copies were kept on the server should an MP actually want to read them). This isn’t democracy in action, it’s spam. The second problem with this method is that it doesn’t say that much about how strongly the public feels about an issue. It’s just too easy to do and therefore it is effectively devalued as a democratic tool. The motivation required to get involved can be extremely low in what is the digital equivalent of the lobbyist’s old postcard technique. This approach lies towards the lighter end of any continuum of online engagement. My final point is that these 57 MPs were on side – until they were spammed and their offices brought to a grinding halt. Perhaps not the smartest way to win friends and influence people! This campaign shows that, just because something is easy to do, it doesn’t mean that you should do it. The value seems limited and the risk is that it discredits more carefully thought through attempts to virally engage citizens in the future. It would have been so much more impressive had Greenpeace sat down and tried to use digital media to really engage people in the issues rather than simply digitising outdated methods of campaigning.]]>

2 thoughts on “When viral campaigns catch a cold

Leave a Reply