How social media became so crucial to the left in British politics

Owen Jones speaks about the importance of social media to the left at Netroots 2012This years Netroots UK conference was held in the TUC’s rather swanky Congress House at the weekend, and was a platform for various left wing digital activists to hear speakers, receive training, and exchange e-campaigning tips.

The big finish was recently appointed Independent columnist Owen Jones, who has built himself a substantial platform through social media.

Jones highlighted how easy and quick it is for activists to share information and highlight issues in the social media age. He also said that social media and all the things that that encompasses are critical for left wing movements, who’s causes he believes are  “airbrushed” out of the mainstream media.

A similar view as been expressed by American right wingers such as the late Andrew Breitbart, who believe that their causes are ignored by mainstream media platforms.  Issues that were discussed at the recent RightOnline conference in Las Vegas.

Time and again we see political movements using the social space to bypass old media gatekeepers in order to organise, and promote their beliefs.

Jones spoke of sharing videos of incidents using  iPhones too to record their own versions of events  and he reference the the Battle of Orgreave, which took place in the 1984 miner’s strike. At the time miners were accused to provoking a police charge, which was how it was reported by mainstream media despite South Yorkshire police eventually settled out of court and paid compensation.

It was a great example he said of an event that could not happen today because of the way activists are able to record through text, images and video and share this via social media creating their own narrative.

One of Jones’ main points during his impressive summing up speech is that “clicktivisim” isn’t enough on its own. It was a thought echoed throughout the day, with many attendees developing ways to take online causes offline, and vice versa in the way Occupy and UKUncut did with some success. While activists are using social media more and more to “force their issues onto the agenda” Jones believes this can only bear fruit when it is combined with, as he puts it, “real world struggles” offline.

Owen Jones has built himself an impressive online profile, mainly through his Twitter account – @ownejones84, on which he has over over 42, 000 followers. This a social media standing many MPs would be jealous of. He regularly uses the service to promote issues he cares about to to those followers. This included one day in which he tweeted about toilet break rights for call centre workers, which got him labelled the ‘real life Dave Spart’ by some right wing commentators. Jones though also frequently takes on these critics online, and it has all been an effective promotional tool for his book Chav’s, which is currently a political best seller.

It’s often noted how far behind the US British online activism is, particularly on the left. With high profile campaigners like Owen Jones highlighting the “centrality” of social media to campaigning, this could be beginning to change.