Internet 1.0 was about being able to publish to anything with a computer screen. Now, anything with a screen can publish back. That’s what social media represents…the ‘me’ in media.
Tom Foremski, SiliconValleyWatcher
In the new European Commission set-up, there are two nominations that make me quite sceptical: that of Neelie Kroes at the Digital Agenda, and that of Viviane Reding at Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.
First the person who will be in charge of the so-called digital agenda for Europe is a 69-year-old woman, current Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. I can’t help but wonder: is a person who should actually be retired the right one to lead Europe into the future? Can she understand what the digital revolution is all about? I doubt it. The Spanish socialist party’s spokesperson for the digital economy is a 30-year-old woman. I think that’s the way it should be because one cannot apply old methods to new phenomena.
Then the Communication portfolio – held by one of the most decent Commissioners so far, Margot Wallström, simply disappeared. Apparently, the competence for communication will be under Viviane Reding’s portfolio. I followed her hearing. Although it is not humanly possible to follow 3 hours of Commissioner hearing -and I might have therefore missed something- I’m pretty sure there were almost no questions about communication. At some point, as this blog reports, Viviane Reding mentioned that, as a former journalist her approach would be to find interesting stories to tell about the EU. Clearly she still thinks that in order to make the EU closer to the citizen, the EU needs to be better communicated. As many EU communicators, she’s wrong. The EU needs to communicate WITH the citizens and not TO the citizens. So I’m begging you, please: stop broadcasting, and start engaging!
EU leaders’ basic misunderstanding on how they should communicate is well reflected in their use of social media. I did a quick study. On Facebook, José Manuel Barroso has 337 fans, Catherine Ashton 204, Neelie Kroes 717, and Viviane Reding… well, she just doesn’t have a profile. To give you a point of comparison, I -Miss Anybody- personally have 565 friends on Facebook, and 155 fans of the Eurosocialist fan page. Surely top EU officials can do better than that! The presence of EU leaders on Twitter is even more pathetic. They simply are not there at all, at least officially, because the vacuum their absence creates has been filled by either fake accounts: such as @JMDBarroso and @hermanvanrompuy or cybersquatting: @CatherineAshton, @VivianeReding @neeliekroes.
Dear Commissioners, you can’t be serious. Communicating with citizens is actually easy to do: just go where they are. You ought to take an example from the European Parliament president, Jerzy Buzek, who has a remarkably different approach: 2.462 fans on Facebook, an official Twitter profile that has already 1.006 followers, though it opened just a few weeks ago, and he is the only one of the above to have links to his social network accounts on his Web page. Last month the European Commission’s Internet editors and webmasters published an appeal to their bosses so that they start harnessing the power of the Internet for better communication. This letter clearly shows that the Commission has competent staff on the matter. The question then is: how long will EU leaders keep on ignoring the communication revolution that is taking place at the moment?
NB: Thanks to the good work of Commission staff, a list of EU institutions’ Twitter and Facebook accounts can be found here.
UPDATE February 10th: @dicknieuwenhuis informs me that Janez Potočnik, new Commissioner for the Environment has opened a Twitter account today! Congratulations!
Let’s have a dream. Let’s dream of a fully female European Commission… Impossible, you may think? Try and think again. It’s actually so easy to do that just four random citizens came up with a list of at least one woman per country, in just 36 hours. Governments can’t be bothered to find female candidates, civil society decided to do it for them.
EU states are currently in the process of nominating their candidates for the European Commission. Each state can only nominate one person. So what happens? Not very surprisingly, most candidates nominated so far are men. This is very worrying as it seems that the 2009-2014 Commission will have even less women than in 2004-2009, a period of time when there were only 8 women out of 27 commissioners. This is not acceptable.
Over the past months, I’ve been promoting the idea of gender equality at top EU positions on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. Doing so, I was regularly confronted with comments asking the question whether or not any woman would be competent enough to take this level of responsibility. There are plenty of good, knowledgeable, competent women that can take over these jobs. We just never talk about them. Somehow men’s names always come up.
Now, there is no excuse anymore. We have found over 26 female names that hold all the qualities to become Commissioner. Let’s make it happen. Let’s have a genuinely gender-balanced European Commission this time. Would you like to make this come true? Then, follow these steps:
A job vacancy published by a US company specifically requires applicants to have at least 250 followers on Twitter. “Will this set a precedent?”, wonders the blog The Lobby. Find out about the whole story here.
On my way back from Barcelona, I stopped at the lovely coastal town of La Rochelle where the Parti socialiste summer university was held. The sun was shining, people were in a good mood, and optimism was in the air. Journalists felt it too as for once in a very long time they wrote positive articles on the PS. What has caused that sudden turnaround? Could they actually feel the activists’ enthusiasm? Have they been seduced by the reforms announced by PS leader Martine Aubry? Or is it simply that they have finally realised that their approach to the PS in the past years has been overly negative? The PS is by far not only about internal fights. The PS is not dead. The PS is an activist party. It is alive and kicking, lifted up by the dedication of its thousands of activists, who relentlessly and voluntarily give some of their free time to the pursuit of their ideals because they refuse fatality, and decided one day to take their destiny into their own hands. I am regularly dumbstruck when I notice the gap between the party’s life as I see it from inside, and the image that is given by the mainstream media. I feel betrayed and usurped. I am happy to see that finally there are signs of change in this regard.
This weekend at La Rochelle, the activists’ enthusiasm warmed up my heart. Among the reforms announced by Martine Aubry in her opening speech, especially two of them were greeted by thunderous applause, spiced up by bravos and hurrays: the first one was about putting an end to the very French habit of plurality of offices, and the second one was about following the American model and opting for open primaries for the presidential election in 2012. Besides these two groundbreaking reforms, Martine Aubry announced the upcoming launch of a social network dedicated to PS activists and sympathisers. This “socialist Facebook” will be called Coopol from “coopérative politique”, political cooperative in French. I am thrilled by these three announcements as they all go towards a greater openness of the Parti socialiste.
Openness to the diversity of society by putting an end to plurality of offices. In order to renew itself, the Parti socialiste needs to promote more women, young people, people of foreign origin, people from any social and economic backgrounds. Not only will it better reflect the diversity of French society, but it will also convey that diversity engenders creativity.
Openness to our sister parties on the left and to the participation of our sympathisers to the party’s life thanks to the presidential primaries. I am convinced that the left needs to unite. We are driven by the same values. What differs is our vision of what is needed to reach our common ideals. I believe that is something we can overcome. The primaries will also give our sympathisers the opportunity to play an important role in the campaign, thus certainly giving birth to new vocations.
Openness to new means of political activism thanks to Coopol. This new tool will allow activists who share common interests to gather and act together despite geographical distance. Opening up the tool to sympathisers will also show that our party is a common place for debate, as well as a laboratory for political innovation.
Openness is a left-wing concept, and so is participative democracy and transparency. It was high time we reasserted it.
As Al Green sings, “a change is gonna come”.
Ever wondered what social media actually meant? It’s as simple as ice cream…
So, fellow bloggers: do you think you are like pecan ice cream or rather like pickle ice cream?
A week ago I published a post about Generation 2.0 that dealt with the cultural consequences of the digital revolution. Yesterday, I discovered on Twitter the term of Generation Y thanks to @boriswandoren. The statement “Generation Y” is used to qualify the generation roughly born since the end of the seventies, which is the first one to have massively integrated the use of digital technologies in their daily lives. Boris Wandoren, Jon Worth and I engaged in a Twitter debate about the necessity of Generation Y values to be represented more in politics, which led Jon Worth to write a blogpost disproving the generational argument, stating that the main issue in today’s politics is more the structural difficulty of political parties to integrate “risk takers, leaders, people with drive, people with ideology, and bind them into a party structure”. Julien Frisch picked up this post, partly agreeing with Jon while arguing at the same time that there is some truth in the generational issue.
I still believe it is a matter of generation. But don’t get me wrong, I do not mean it is simply a question of replacing elder politicians by younger ones. That would be too easy. To paraphrase Jon, “it’s more important than that”. The generation question is not only an age question; it is much more relevant as a cultural question. Many young people still think like older generations while some elder people embrace the cultural changes younger generations bring in. Take the example of the 1960s cultural protest movement. Back then, not all young people were culturally liberal hippies! Some were conservative. They were the same age though. Yet looking back in history, at that moment it’s the values of the young progressive hippies -joined by their open-minded elders- that won the cultural battle.
The relevance of the generation question is more culture than age-related. So what is the specific culture of Generation Y and how does it matter? According to the Wikipedia articles I could read on the topic in English and French, what characterises Generation Y -at least in Western countries- is the following:
This list is certainly not comprehensive, and more importantly not entirely relevant to all geographies, but it is still good food for thought. Although these Wikipedia articles give a good description of Generation Y’s culture, they do not relate it to political behaviours. And that’s where we get back to the point I wanted to make.
The emergence of this new culture will have a long-term impact on politics. My guess is that Obama’s election is the first visible sign of what the political legacy of Generation Y will be. I believe that the future of politics lies in Openness, Ethics and Humility:
There is a growing demand for a new way of doing politics. However, there is still not quite a satisfactory offer. Stay tuned: more posts coming up on Generation Y, the open society and what it means for politics.
Update on 11 July:
Boris Wandoren’s take on the topic: http://www.clermont-citygroup.eu/2009/07/11/is-it-more-important-than-the-generational-issue/comment-page-1/#comment-454
and the amazing article by Kevin Kelly on digital socialism: http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsocialism?currentPage=all
I joined the Twitter community just a week ago. Although at first I was skeptical about this tool, the eye-opener blogposts on the political use of Twitter written by Jon Worth and Julien Frisch talked me into paying a little more attention to it. A couple of days later Bente Kalsnes’s post on political geeks in Europe convinced me Twitter was something to consider seriously. Now I am hooked. The other day I was juggling as usual between the windows of Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and my RSS reader, to name but a few, when suddenly it hit me: ten years ago, none of that was part of my life, and of anybody’s either as a matter of fact.
When I was a teenager in the nineties, just a little more than ten years ago, we had no mobile phones, and hardly any personal computers. In France, we were still using the Minitel. Mobile phones only started to widespread when I went to university. Our teachers still hardly dared to ask to hand in typed papers instead of hand-written ones. Just a few of us actually owned a computer. Ten years later, we are all emailing, browsing the web, sending text messages on our mobile phones, having hundreds of friends on Facebook, posting our ideas on blogs, and participating in lively twittering micro-discussions with people we’ve never met. All that happened within 10 years, and it has profoundly changed our relationship to the world, and especially our relationship with the political sphere.
We are witnessing the beginning of a whole new era. The digital revolution will probably be seen in the history of the public space as the most significant milestone since the invention of movable type printing by Gutenberg in the 15th century. Anyone can have access to any kind of information through a simple internet connection. Information has become a common good. It is not anymore a source of power only reserved for the educated. This is deeply changing the political equilibrium. Anyone can now influence the public debate rather easily, provided they are a little witty, and understand how to make a strategic use of web tools such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Information is not top-down anymore. Information comes from anywhere and from anyone. The public sphere is becoming more and more horizontal. This is having a huge impact on our democracies. For decades, political debates have been led by political parties, journalists, and intellectuals. Now anyone can voice their opinion on the web and get a lot of attention. There is no monopoly of the information anymore. We are just at the beginning of a new era. The tech people call it the digital society. The Commission officials call it the information society. I would call it the open society.
This evolution of society is causing a serious challenge to mainstream political parties. These organisations have heavy structures. The bigger they got, the most top-down they went in the way they operated internally. That doesn’t work anymore because thanks to the Internet revolution, the information is not the monopoly of the few. But mainstream political parties are so frozen in time in the way they operate that they have been having trouble integrating the Internet revolution. Of course, they all try and use the latest technologies, have fancy websites with all the coolest functionalities. However they haven’t managed to integrate the input these new functionalities bring in. They just don’t get it. It’s not a matter of integrating the new technologies. It’s a matter of understanding how much these technologies have created a whole new culture, a wide-open culture, based on the widespread availability of information and the possibility of all to feed the society with more.
This blogpost is just the beginning of a long series. I feel the topic of the open society is essential to understanding the changing political landscape we are witnessing. The success of the Greens in France, the election of the Pirate Party in Sweden, and all the talks on the free sharing of data on the Internet are just other indicators of that move towards a new type of society, which is leading to the necessity of thinking new ways of doing politics.
Photo 1: “Le” Minitel (groundbreaking French technology). Credits: Wikipedia Commons
Photo 2: Jump on the social media wagon. Credits: Matt Hamm on Flickr
Since I couldn’t help but notice the gap between the campaign as I know it from the inside, and as it is portrayed by the media -see previous posts here and there- I decided to try and find a new equilibrium -if only a little- by relating the campaign through the eyes of a eurosocialist activist.
The Party of European Socialists has been preparing these elections for almost two years. Two years of consultation, debate and action. Two years trying to catch the attention of 27 national presses, in vain. Two years of hard work only to realise -at the end of the race- that the national media are just starting to show interest in these elections, only two weeks before the vote. This is a deeply upsetting situation for activists.
The PES manifesto is the fruit of an unprecedented approach in Europe. This manifesto is the result of a democratic bottom-up process, and not top-down as it is still done in other European parties.
For almost a year -from October 2007 to July 2008- the PES ran an open and transparent consultation of activists, NGOs, and trade unions over four key topics that were to become the PES campaign axes for the 2009 European elections. Gathered in their local branches, the PES activists debated for months in order to write contributions to the upcoming PES manifesto. The Your Space website was also an innovation in the field of political debate. Internet users – either PES activists or not- were invited to post articles or comments on the topics of the consultation. I took part in all of this. The result? For the first time, a common programme for all Socialist, Social-democrat, and Labour parties of Europe -a manifesto for the Party of European Socialists that states our values, describes six common axes for our future actions, and develops 71 concrete proposals for a new direction to Europe.
An ambitious manifesto, an unprecedented approach, transnational and democratic. Something that had never been seen before.
In December 2008, this manifesto was adopted unanimously by member parties at the PES council in Madrid (watch video). I was there too. This moment gave me the shivers. Along with the hundreds of activists that were there, I shared the feeling that the adoption of this manifesto was the emotional symbol of what we were building together: a Paneuropean political force that manages to elaborate and promote a common project, beyond the boundaries of language and culture, thanks to the enthusiasm of its activists. All together, united. Definitely moving.
When I came back home, I was very disappointed by the French media coverage of the event. What was a major event, an unprecedented attempt at politicising the decisions made in Europe, was only reported through the participation of the freshly-elected head of the French PS, Martine Aubry. It is true that Martine Aubry was applauded warmly, but she was only one party leader among the 27 that attended the event. What mattered was not her attendance or the way it was received. What mattered was the adoption of a common manifesto to all centre-left parties in Europe, and the way we managed to get there. Unfortunately, this was -according to the media- not a big story.
What was also innovating enough to be worth pointing out is the fact that the French PS has fully adopted the PES campaign: manifesto, mottos, visual identity, and logos alike. The PS chose to launch its campaign at the same time as the PES campaign was launched in April in Toulouse. On that occasion, all PES heads of list from the 27 EU member states gathered at a bilingual event. It was fantastic to see the audience – whose diversity was shown by the variety of flags being waved- so enthusiastic. This event was covered by the media -well, a little. Just a little since, once again, facts were covered through a national lens: it was reported as the PS campaign launch, rather than the PES’s. In fact, it was the opposite.
May, the final sprint. Every Saturday, there was a European day of action, for which PES party members organised events all around Europe, on the same date, and on the same topic: the 9th Social Europe, the 16th climate change, the 23rd relaunching the economy, the 30th our manifesto. When I read the live twitter comments that our activists posted on the events they took part in, when I looked at the pictures of these actions on flickr, and felt the sense of unity they shown, I couldn’t help but think that there was something truly innovating and unique in the 2009 PES campaign. A common manifesto for 27 countries, democratically elaborated, the enthusiastic mobilisation of activists all over Europe, and the use of the latest Internet tools as a means of overcoming distance, are some of the PES campaign features that should have triggered the interest of the media and other commentators.