Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh those interwebs

When I was working on the Ryan Meili leadership campaign, we saw how effective Web 2.0 can be in spreading a message, in generating support and even in raising money.

Web 2.0, for the uninitiated, is the idea that internet communication is not just the one way transmission of information via a website. Properly used, the internet enables the building of community and fully interactive communication. Social networking via sites like Facebook is one of the more recent means by which community or campaign building throws off the usual constraints.

We see another example of this in some local Saskatchewan politics.

Regina lawyer Noah Evanchuk, who was Regina co-chair of the Meili campaign, has not yet made any public announcement about his intent to run for the NDP nomination in the Palliser constituency. There isn't even a website - at least not yet - though the url exists and currently redirects to Noah's professional website.

But there is a Noah Evanchuk Facebook page. And without any formal campaign, without any website to redirect, it has managed to garner (as of this writing) 162 supporters. That's just Noah's friends (Facebook and real life) using their existing networks.

Similarly, the people behind the Barack Obama website (now restyled as Organizing for America) are using an email / social networking hybrid pitch to get supporters of Obama's heath care proposals to call their Congressfolk and Senators. The email makes the case, and then provides phone numbers for the appropriate elected officials. Of course, once the initial recipient forwards the email, that data may no longer be correct. No matter. The email helpfully embeds a link to a search engine that uses the person's address to generate the correct list. And it includes another page where the person can report back on how it went when they did call.

Of course, Web 2.0 isn't all opportunity. There are more than a few pitfalls. Among those who've been stung over the past couple of days, we have United Airlines, AT&T, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (twice) and the usual gang of far right extremists who are trying to destroy the Anglican Communion.

First, United Airlines. Dave Carroll had some issues with United. Here is the story in his own words.

In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didnt deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say no to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 1 is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming. I promise.

Here is Song 1 - United Breaks Guitars

I'd seen the story online, but it hit CNN today (though I can't find a link). After nearly 150,000 views, United have finally decided to do something about Dave's guitar. According to the CNN story, the company has called this a learning experience - and plan to use the video as part of their employee training.

Compare that delayed response to the actions of a quick thinking WestJet employee. When a young bride arrived in Victoria, BC a few hours before her wedding, she was understandably distraught when her wedding dress had missed a connection somewhere. Once the employee of western Canada's regional carrier had tracked down the dress but determined it wouldn't get to Victoria on time, she simply took the bride downtown and bought her a new $2,280 wedding dress - on her personal credit card. She was that confident the company would do the right thing and reimburse her - which they did. Of course, there's less Web 2.0 buzz when a company goes over the top to do the right thing - but lot's of buzz when the company stupidly plays the villain.

Mythbuster Adam Savage was savaged by the giant telecom AT&T, who felt that "a few hours of websurfing in Canada" should cost him about US$11,000. Savage made use of his Twitter account (and his minor celebrity status) to protest the ridiculous overcharge. With more than 50,000 followers on his Twitter account, Savage proved himself a trustbuster as well as a mythbuster, and AT&T resolved the issue.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been bitten twice in the past 48 hours by stories which would never had legs before Web 2.0.

First, he took communion at the funeral of former Governor General Roméo LeBlanc. Not a big deal, you'd think. But the funeral was a Roman Catholic mass - and Stephen Harper is an evangelical protestant. Now, even that wouldn't have been so bad. Another former GG, Adrienne Clarkson, an Anglican, once received at a Roman mass. There was criticism, but at least she had the sense to put the host into her mouth - right away. Harper appeared to put it in his pocket. While the Clarkson event got some coverage, the Harper faux pas has gotten far more. In the great scheme of things, not a major issue, but it is a headache the Prime Minister's Office would not have had even ten years ago. Here's the video.

The PMO's other headache has to do with the decision to grant tourism funding to support Toronto's Pride Week festival last week. In an interview with the extremist site LifeSiteNews (I do not link to extremist websites as a matter of principle), obscure Saskatchewan Tory backbencher Brad Trost launched a personal attack against Tory Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy. That wouldn't be so bad - except that the government has now stripped Ablonczy of the grant program. Most of Harper's time leading the party has been focussed on containing the extremists. But with Web 2.0, it isn't possible for the PM to hide the fact that he's actually pandering to them.

A few years ago, comments about what HM the Queen may or may not have said in private correspondence wouldn't likely get much coverage. But in the age of Web 2.0 some deliberate misrepresentations by the usual suspects have proven embarrassing for the extremist moves to destroy the Anglican Communion.

The Reverend Canon Doctor Chris Sugden (no, he really insists on piling on his titles like that) tried to claim that a letter from Mrs. Battenberg constituted an endorsement of the extremist agenda of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans - conveniently leaving out the paragraph where HM (or actually one of her staff) makes it clear that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England does not interfere in the day to day affairs of the established Church of England, nor does she endorse a particular agenda on controversial issues. It was pretty unambiguous, the way her staffer said it:

I should explain however that the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England would not intervene in the day-to-day running of the Church of England. Although you have already sent a copy of your letter to him, I have, nevertheless, been directed to forward your letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury so that he may be aware of your approach to Her Majesty from this office.

The best media comment on this is The Telegraph's religion editor George Pilcher. After describing how Mr. Sugden has been implying Mrs. Battenberg supports his extremist views, Pilcher goes on to say:

“Sources close to the Palace”, as they say, have coughed lightly and raised an eyebrow to one another. That’s a courtier’s equivalent of being incandescent with rage. Because Her Majesty said no such thing.

Ten years ago, it's unlikely Chris's idle ravings would have gotten quite the exposure outside of his own schismatic circles. Instead, he and his are exposed as . . . let's call them "dissemblers" since "liars" is so harsh.

Web 2.0 is a marvellous tool that can build things up. It can also be a marvellous tool to trip up the foolish.

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