The answer: yes, sometimes and sometimes in conjunction with offline activity. Does offline protesting work? Sometimes.
I’ve done a quick interview for BBC Midlands Today about online protesting, they’re interested because Birmingham’s LDV van maker is campaigning for government help and while the situation is continuing the company are using a blog as well as Facebook and Twitter. It’s part communication with workers part campaign, and when seen alongside the lack of bodies at a (not well publicised, 7am) protest Transport Correspondent Peter Plisner is asking “is protesting moving online?”.
As with all TV stuff, I didn’t really have time to say exactly what I thought; that organising people (a sort of nudged self-organisation) online is easier than offline, that protests or campaigns with clear achievable goals are better online as well as offline (consciousness-raising through networks is good, but fuzzy), and that it is easy to try at least. I’ve had a more detailed look at some of the issues in the past on the Birmingham Post blog.
In short, some online protests do work — some raise the issue and show strength of feeling like the Road Pricing petition (1.8 million “signatures” and a shift in government rhetoric) and then become news. Some like the MySociety protest over MPs declaring their expenses did so with very little media attention, people took the action (online) of contacting their representatives to protest — that action worked, and “online” organised and facilitated that.
But in reality online and offline protests aren’t really different, they still need people willing to take action. Getting an idea of what action, and who’s willing to take it, is communication. And the social web facilitates communication.
In the end it got a bit confused as to why “blogging”/”twitter” is popular — we’re still at the stage of explaining the technology as well as its use. But I hope LDV’s social media campaigning does help, it’s to their credit that they are trying it.
I’ll link to the TV report when it comes online (and if it’s not too embarrasing).