Posts Tagged ‘twitter’

London Riots showed the worst of the city, but also the best

Written by Mike on . Posted in Articles, Lewisham Council


IT’S HIGHLY UNUSUAL to have widespread violence across a city, where the authorities have absolutely no idea of the root cause.

There’s no one to negotiate with, no community group to speak to, no leaders, no ideals to challenge: it’s just sporadic mob violence. My constituents have been shocked by its spread and unpredictability. St Stephen’s church just off the High Street has boarded up its windows, as have local pubs. On Tuesday our local branch of Barclays had a sign that ominously proclaimed: “This branch is closed until further notice”.

Social media and the London Riots

Twitter has become a dangerous tool: provocateurs are using it to spread rumours that the far-right National Front is going to march upon Lewisham to “reclaim the streets”. On Tuesday night panicked tweets exclaimed: “200 national front marching to Lewisham”. It wasn’t true. But in a highly diverse area where over 100 languages are spoken, rumours are enough to cause fear.

If you plot the London Riots against deprivation there’s a clear relationship: the violence mostly happened in poorer areas. There’s also a historic link between austerity and social unrest, according to a discussion document just published by the The Centre for Economic Policy Research. Yet, no one thinks the individuals who caused the violence were anything other than opportunists – some career criminals, others who saw a chance to loot.

The first before the courts included an organic chef, an opera house steward and a university student. There’s no political sentiment being expressed by the looters except for the downright stupid – such as the “I want my taxes back” looter in Clapham Junction which went viral.
‘People wanted to stand up’

Volunteers clean up London

This civil disorder has brought out the worst elements from our community. It’s thought that some gang members were behind the most extreme violence. But it has also brought out the best in Lewisham. People have genuinely wanted to stand up for their community. On Tuesday morning, unprompted, around 15 local people came down to the town centre on their way to work to help with the clean-up. Fantastic images of Londoners coming out onto the streets to clean up the mess have been seen across the globe. One American tweeted in response: “English people, WE’LL stop thinking you’re all quaint and proper as soon as YOU stop immediately cleaning up after your own riots.”

My constituents have inundated me asking me how they can help. This Saturday, local people will be gathering in the town centre for a ‘carrot mob’: armed only with shopping bags, we’re going to go and do our weekly shopping at the local market and at shops damaged by Monday’s violence. It’s a great way of putting money back into the pockets of those affected. It’s also a show of solidarity.

A culture of greed

London is a chaotic place. It’s survived terrorism, the Blitz, the Great Fire, civil war and revolts. Asymmetric violence for no cause has visibly shaken us – and we have to deal with complex issues that have created this situation including the culture of greed. The collapse of trust in our major institutions isn’t helping. In amongst much confusion, one thing is clear, the decent majority have to take an interest in their communities. And politicians have to be visible on the streets and listening.

This article was originally published at

Trade unions and social media

Written by Mike on . Posted in Articles, Labour


Following on from my article in Forefront magazine on trade unions and social media, I’ve been advising Unions21 the leading think-tank, on how trade unions you use social media to improve their public image. You can read the publication ‘The Future for Union Image’ online.

As Director Dan Whittle says:

Unions have not had such a high media profile for years.

More than half the population backed the aims of the March 26th March for the Alternative according to YouGov – but a third of people still see unions as old fashioned.

So what can unions do? These are three of the ‘tough love’ ideas our contributors have put forward:

Perform a social media audit

Facebook, Twitter and blogs are ever more important sources of information – and as trust in government, public institutions and almost everything else declines, people increasingly rely on their friends or even celebrities for their news and opinions.

Mike Harris recommends unions should perform a social media audit to identify their most highly networked members and involve them in delivering their communications. High profile supporters can be used to attract new interest online and well crafted online ‘asks’ can be used to build support and membership.

Drop the jargon

Writer and trainer Paul Richards argues that trade unionism, like every other walk of life, has developed its own slang, jargon and insiders-only language, every bit as impenetrable as polari, doctors’ slang, cockney rhyming slang, computer hackers’ slang… He reminds us that talking about collective bargaining, constructive dismissal and transfers of undertakings is language impenetrable to most people and off-putting and alienating to many.

Please do contact me, for an informal consultation on how your union can improve its image using social media.

The state of the Twittersphere in February 2011

Written by Mike on . Posted in Articles, Blog

A really interesting report from digital media consultant Kathryn Corrick is embedded below.

London remains the world’s no. 1 Twitter city; 12% of Twitter users are “not aware of Facebook” (too cool for school), 11% earn over $100k, and 40% are under 25. The investment the BBC has made in new technologies has paid off – it has 2 out of the top 10 brand accounts – and holds no. 1 position.

In more twitter-related news, I learnt that I am no. 10 in the “Twitter elite” of Lewisham (and what an elite it is!)

Hat tip: the Wall Blog

The state of the Twittersphere , February 2011

Harnessing Celebrity Support: an interview with Mike Harris

Written by Mike on . Posted in Articles, Blog, Free expression

ifex mike harris

Harnessing Celebrity Support: an IFEX interview with Mike Harris

This was originally published as a briefing on campaigning for partner agencies of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange: The global network for free expression.

England’s libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee for seriously hampering free expression, and for good reason. Among other major issues, the legislation doesn’t put the burden of proof on claimants to show statements are indeed false; there is no cap on the amount one can sue for; and there is scant mention of the public interest in the legal text. It should come as no surprise that foreign corporations and businessmen choose to sue for libel in the United Kingdom (UK), where they’re likely to get a favourable result. The practice is so common it has its own moniker: “libel tourism.”

It should also come as no surprise that UK-based IFEX member Index on Censorship has launched an all-out war on the anti-free expression aspects of the legislation. With celebrities enlisted and Twitter employed as its most powerful weapon, the organisation teamed up with English PEN and Sense About Science to launch the Libel Reform Campaign in December 2009 (

Included among the campaigns supporters are comedians Stephen Fry and Shazia Mirza, fiction writer Monica Ali, physician and renowned columnist Dr. Ben Goldacre, and poet and novelist Sir Andrew Motion.

“Comedians understand freedom of expression, a lot of comedians use risqué comedy so it’s a very easy issue to get them interested in,” says Index on Censorship’s Michael Harris, the public affairs manager of the libel reform campaign. When looking for big names to get behind libel reform, the groups focused on those who were most likely to be affected by repressive libel legislation: writers, editors, artists, broadcasters and even scientists whose research could “libel” corporations.

Organisations should choose celebrities who are truly passionate about the cause, says Harris, but they should use their time strategically and be careful not to ask too many small favours. Instead, organisations should prioritise their promotional needs so that celebrities can focus on the big, important events.

“You need to feel it out, get an idea of how much time they have to give,” says Harris. “You don’t want to ask too much.”

Using Twitter as part of the campaign ensured that celebrities could have a big impact with a miniscule time investment. Big name supporters like Fry and others have sent tweets to their followers that encouraged them to go to the libel reform website, attend fundraising events and sign the libel reform petition. By linking to reports or columns, the celebrity tweeters can also educate their fans about the issue. Through piggy-backing on the fan base of celebrity twitter accounts, the campaign has managed to attract around 50,000 supporters, a level of public support that wouldn’t have been possible without the social networking tool, says Harris.

Not only can Twitter reach hundreds of thousands in a matter of seconds, it isn’t confined by geography. “At our campaign events, we’ve spoken to people from all over the country,” says Harris. “A lot of the times we’ve been quite London-centric in our campaigns but with Twitter, users can be anywhere in the world.”

Twitter has its drawbacks, however. People receiving tweets are often on the go and may not be able to concentrate on much more than a single tweet’s 140-character limit. If your organisation needs people to devote their time and attention by, for example, writing a letter or attending parliament, Twitter may not be the best promotional tool. Instead, Harris says, “Twitter is very good at getting people to do a single action – click here, think about this, do this.”

Harris also underlines the importance of hosting events where tweeters, bloggers and technophobe free-expression advocates alike can meet in person. When fellow supporters meet each other, they become further galvanised and are more likely to work together on the web. “People will pass on messages far more readily if they have that real, social connection with the person who is posting something,” says Harris. Recognising this, the campaign hosted a series of “pub discussions” that brought together long-time free expression activists, tweeters and new recruits. “People get a stronger emotional involvement with the campaign when they meet other advocates,” says Harris.

To compensate for Twitter’s disproportionate focus on the young and tech-savvy, the campaign also employed different methods to reach out to non-tweeters. Celebrities were asked to publish opinion articles in major newspapers that outlined the necessity of libel reform (sometimes these columns were ghost-written by the organisation). Public figures on board with the campaign talked about libel reform in their blogs, on the radio and on TV. The campaign also held several events, including a panel discussion on how the laws impact documentary films, and a star-studded comedy evening that raised £15,000 pounds (approx. US$23,000).

Thanks in no small part to the work of Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense About Science, England’s three major political parties now support libel reform, and in early April, the Justice Secretary Jack Straw said the government would change the libel laws. Among other reforms, he promised that claimants can’t argue that damages have been “multiplied” when a statement is re-published on websites, blogs and picked up by other publications; procedural changes will address the “libel tourism” problem and action will be taken to somewhat reduce the heavy legal cost on defendants. Many more reforms are required to ensure England’s legislation no longer puts free expression rights in jeopardy at home and abroad, but these recent developments mark major progress. Look out those hoping to silence detractors in London courts: comedians, activists, writers and tweeters aren’t about to back down.