Has Clicktivism Killed a Giant?

By Tim Hardy

There was a collective intake of breath on social media this afternoon.

The News of the World was dead.

A million tiny sling shots appeared to have brought down Goliath. Clicktivism – as those who like to dismiss online activism call it – had killed a giant.

As the dust settled, doubts began.

What had we done? And was it us who did it?

It was clear from the pressure on News International that someone was going to be sacrificed before the end of the week but I was wrong when I stated that it would be Brooks. Coulson, forced out of his job twice already, is tipped for arrest tomorrow morning.

I had also completely underestimated Murdoch’s ruthlessness.

Two hundred workers, many of whom joined long after the phone hacking era, have lost their jobs. The management – notably Brooks – has walked away scott free.

News of the World is down but the guilty are still at large.

But do we have what it takes to continue the battle?

Many on the left are already feeling qualms about their participation in the campaign because of the redundancies. Good people sometimes have no choice but to work for bad companies. Older people with dependents and financial obligations in particular may prefer to work for a bad newspaper than not to work at all. There are very few jobs out there and if you work in the media, there are very few decent papers. Does that excuse them for working for organisations that have, for example, contributed to the vilification of those on benefits that they may now find themselves joining? Possibly not. But it would be a particular hard-hearted and privileged form of leftist thinking that denied any sympathy for them at all.

If nothing else, now is the time for people on the left to reach out in solidarity and offer suggestions as to how they might organise and fight back as the NUJ are doing. Already the Sun sub-editors have walked out in the kind of wildcat action their paper would have condemned just yesterday to show solidarity with their colleagues.

But this battle was not fought exclusively by the left and my fear now is that if we hesitate Cameron’s propaganda team will be back to their tricks within days.

The outrage at the allegations against News of the World crossed all parties. Before the claim that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked and voicemails deleted, this was a story dismissed even by many on the left as irrelevant. Afterwards, even the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne was ready to condemn it, declaring David Cameron is in the sewer for his association with those involved.

This campaign was fuelled by widespread outrage and contained all the hallmarks of the kind of tabloid witch-hunt editors like Brooks have grown rich by inciting: child killers, terrorists and dead soldiers.

That Cameron, normally so shrewd at judging the public mood, failed to take a convincing stand shows how much he is in debt to the Murdoch empire.

It wasn’t just twitter and facebook than brought down the paper. It was old media too, notably the Guardian, and a handful of determined and bloody minded MPs. But online campaigns were essential because they operated in the medium where companies are most vulnerable in our society: the domain of the brand and of brand reputation. A twitter storm of potential and existing customers scared the advertising money away from next weekend’s newspaper.  The final edition will carry no adverts because only a small number of already toxic names like Tescos and Vodafone were still willing to be associated with the paper.

Like a general trying to contain a contagious outbreak, Murdoch has sacrificed the entire organisation in an attempt to quarantine the disease and pin all the blame on that one newspaper even though those responsible for running the editorial desk are still at large.

The danger is that his tactic will work and that many will abandon the campaign now.

Unless we keep the pressure up, the newsagents will be stocking red-topped pages of Two Minute Hate again within days as if nothing had changed.

However hard it is for us on the left, we cannot allow ourselves to be deterred when men like Murdoch use workers as human shields and fall on one another in condemnation for putting people out of work. We did not put these people out of work. Murdoch put them out of work. Our anger should be turned on him, on Brooks, on Cameron, not on each other.

Ed Miliband has finally shown leadership over this issue and rightfully continues to demand that Brooks be fired. But as those wildcat strikers at the Sun and the sacked News of the World employees are discovering, this is more than a question of vile and unforgivable intrusions on the private lives of individuals. Brooks’ head will not be enough either.

News of the World are just one rotten part of a rotten media empire that corrupts debate and promotes an agenda of hatred and ignorance, an empire that is inextricably linked to David Cameron and the Conservative Party, an empire that supports and is supported by a corrupt police force that puts the interests of the rich and powerful before any idea of justice.

We must not let up. This campaign now has momentum. It will take less effort to keep it going than it took to start.

Now is not the time for regrets, for recriminations, for the factionalism for which the left is infamous. Now is not the time to hesitate. Now is the time to escalate.

As in every horror movie you have ever seen, the monster is not dead. We need to shoot it in the head.

12 thoughts on “Has Clicktivism Killed a Giant?

  1. I agree with your analysis. Murdoch had moved to “contain” the contagion because he still wants his big BSkyB deal to go through, and is trying to distance himself from the fall out. So, what do we do next? Suggestions?

  2. On the 2 campaign groups I am on, there is a fear that now NotW is ‘dead’ Murdoch may destroy any doc’s, & kill any further police investigation/s,

    I think again we must NOT let this happen.

    • He can’t destroy the documentation without incriminating himself further – although it looks like one of his executives tried to do this several months ago. We need to keep a careful eye on what happens over the next few days but I’m pleased to see nobody is convinced that killed NotW is the end of things.

  3. BTW I saw a tweet saying that an NI spokesperson had stated on Radio4PM that NotW employees would be offered alternative employment.( Not seen anything more about this elsewhere though)

    • There are still a lot of open questions about what happens to staff – it sounds like some are being offered new jobs (on condition of keeping their mouths shut). I hear more details will be coming out tomorrow morning.

  4. Good question. I’ve read the Reuter’s piece – it seems speculative and the author admits to being uncertain on the legal position – but it’s definitely true that the Murdoch empire is definitely ready to profit from this so it’s no real loss to them.

    You’re spot on about the danger that the police will yet again escape justice too.

    Cameron and Murdoch will want things to die down so that people will forget and that a few sacrifices will allow the guilty can escape. This is why we can’t let the campaign die.

  5. Did we kill a giant / chop off one head of the hydra?
    There’s interesting speculation doing the rounds on Twitter linking to a Reuters blog post that Murdoch could wipe the data – although it alludes to bankruptcy which isn’t the case i Britain’s [former] best-selling paper?
    Yes they’re coming for Coulson, but not as yet for the cops. OK plods do plod, we know that too (mostly to our own cost re bail conditions etc)
    So it’s wait and see (and escalate in the meantime)

    • If any other newspaper is found to be caught up in this, they must be dealt with. However, that can only happen if the precedent is set now, not by dumping a toxic brand, but by making sure that those responsible, at all levels , are brought to book. If Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, Simon Greenberg and Rupert Murdoch walk away from this, it would be hard to justify any firm action against others who may be exposed. When the beast is wounded, it attacks. Removing the tail will not help, you have to take its head.

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