If you ever doubted that social media could be used to your advantage as a way of fighting back against “the machine” then this was the week that proved it.
Of course, the Turkish Government knew that already. It’s why Prime Minister Erdogan threatened to “wipe out Twitter” when trying to shut it down for “protection measures” on Thursday in a Draconian reaction to corruption allegations. Inevitably, within a day, hundreds of thousands of users had found a way to circumvent the ban using hashtags such as #twitterisblockedinturkey. And when even the Turkish President then tweets his disapproval, you don’t need satirists.
Ah, satire. That brings us closer to home. Last week, the traditional way that British governments manipulate the media was subverted. I’m talking about that Bingo poster, of course, the one that was so misjudged I thought it a spoof. The Tory party chairman Grant Shapps and his gang must have been so pleased with themselves: “Bingo! Cutting the Bingo Tax and Beer Duty” it read: “To help hard-working people do more of the things they enjoy”. Yep! If you somehow missed it, I’m not making it up.
In the 80s and 90s here’s what the Government did: the Tories and the Saatchis, or Blair, Mandelson and their admen, would invite the press along to the unveiling of a single poster. Yes, they may have booked poster sites around the country, but they didn’t really need to because all the assembled hacks would do their work for them. That one poster’s message would feature in every news bulletin and newspaper without fail. And all uncritically so – just like last week’s Mail, Sun and Telegraph post-Budget front pages. It saved a fortune on buying advertising space.
Sure, some of the controversial posters: “Labour isn’t working” and “Demon Eyes” might get debated and eventually parodied, but it was all so after the event.
Fast forward to today. There’s George Osborne delivering an older-voter-pleasing Budget. Then there’s Ed Miliband giving an embarrassing official response. Labour was in disarray. And then Shapps unveiled his little horror.
“Bingo! A Gala Budget. A Mecca For The Masses”, “Bingo! Two Fat Ladies. Not With Us in Charge” were the first spoofs I saw, all adapting the same distinctive, typographical style, and no more ridiculous than the original.
The modern difference is the immediacy of the satirist’s riposte and the ability of ordinary people (who have Photoshop) to hit back by being as clever, if not more so, than the admen and party strategists. Yes, Ed Miliband must have been mighty relieved, and yes, the poster exposed how out of touch the Tories appear to be with many “hard-working people” , but it also revealed how blase they have become about modern media.
This, dear reader, can be to your benefit. Ignore all the nonsense on twitter about “scrumbags” and “selfies”, and embrace social media as a tool for your own advantage; a way of asserting just a smidgeon of democracy.
Stefano Hatfield is Editorial Director of London Live