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Trend watching – how technology is affecting political communications

Going away for a week has been a good time to catch up on reading and podcasts – plus the inevitable train adventures with my 4 1/2-year-old son!

One of the best podcast I listened to was this retrospective interview with Government vs the Robots host Jonathan Tanner.

Over the last 40+ episodes, Jonathan has looked at a whole range of topics about how technology is going to impact politics in the future – and increasingly already is shaping politics.

But this episode was especially interesting as it covered many themes that feel relevant to anyone involved in the work of social change, so I wanted to do a quick post about some of the big themes I took from the episode that I’m going to be taking back into the office.

Three reflections about how technology is shaping politics

  1. All the focus might be on how technology is changing the world -think about driverless cars or devices that track your health – but we should really be looking at who controls these and the power they have. Ultimately the big learning is about the increased power of the tech monopolies – and perhaps as campaigners, we should be focusing on them more and more as the targets for our campaigns.
  2. Our media consumption is getting more and more fragmented, and that’s leading to a rise in identity politics as we’re able to be served up more and more hyper-personalized content based on our interest and views, or what an algorithm thinks should be our interests + views.
  3. We’re increasingly questioning what is reality – and this is changing fast fueled by increasing awareness of disinformation by external actors and the rise in fake news. In short, we’re questioning more and more (something explored more in this episode).

Three places campaigners should be learning from

  1. The Brexit Party – as they’ve realised that they don’t need to go via traditional media outlets to get their message out they can create their own channels to broadcast directly, for example launching Brexit Box, a TV channel broadcasting content via YouTube, and when appearing on traditional media they’re focusing on getting a clip that can be shared on their social platforms.
    Jonathan in his interview gently challenges many of us in the development sector who are more interested in an article in Devex or the Guardian, arguing that there is a lag in the received wisdom of what’s effective amongst too many NGO communicators. If you’re interested in more of how the Brexit Party use Facebook then I’d recommend this from 89Up.
  2. Love Island – which has created a community of unofficial, but perhaps in reality officially sanctioned, social media accounts that can push out content linked to the show which the official channels can’t.
    They’re creating a community, some might say a movement, around the program. It’s a similar phenomenon that can be seen in the ‘leaked’ lines to take by social accounts that support Jeremy Corbyn around the recent Panorama election. In a new power world to succeed we need to let the movement create its own content and give away control – something explored more in this episode.
  3. US Presidential Candidates – perhaps less unexpected but a reminder that as the US election gets into full swing we’re likely to see a bunch of innovations coming from the candidates – especially those looking for the Democratic nomination. Here is an early look at how they’re using digital adverts, and this is a topic I’ll be following over the next 18 months, but it’s also a reminder that following trends from elections across the world can be a good place to look for new trends (for example in Kenya explored more in this episode)

Three opportunities for changemakers

  1. What could a new model of online organising look like? We’re still used to focus most of our volunteer time on traditional ways of getting our message out, but what would it look like to build a program that focuses on putting volunteers time to use online, engaging in the comments in articles, sharing content and calling into phone-ins. You can see some clues in how to do this in this Changemaker podcast looking at how Amnesty harnessed its members to review abuse on Twitter.
  2. What would effective messaging on Facebook really look like? Jonathan asked what would it look like if progressives put out their best data-informed messaging on Facebook how would it perform? Are we using the tools and approaches that we know would work to maximize the algorithms?
  3. Building a narrative of hope and empathy – building on the thinking and work that Alex Evans (interviewed here) has done to on collective psychology and how we could be creating a narrative and story about a ‘larger us’ that brings us together.

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