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09 August 2018

Social media killed the political star

This article was first published by PRWeek.

Labour has found itself at the heart of two Twitter storms in recent days, but both point to the weakness of its leadership, not a demonstration of its strength.

This was, of course, precisely the opposite intention of those who kicked started the hashtags, #WeAreCorbyn and #WatsonResign.

Both have come about as a consequence of the ongoing row over anti-Semitism in the Party.

Depending on your position, which is often related to your support of Corbyn, it is either a fake row created by those who have never supported him, or a failure of his leadership to take decisive action.

What is clear is that this row has been going on for more than two years, which is unprecedented.

In any usual communications scenario, action is taken so that the issue can be dealt with, clear leadership shown and bridges rebuilt.

Often the two sides will come together to formulate a response that everyone can have faith in.

That hasn’t happened in this case and, if anything, both sides are showing increasing intransigence, or commitment, depending on your view.

Corbyn supporters have decided to use social media channels, which worked so effectively for them during the General Election.

It enabled them to bypass the traditional media and have a direct engagement with potential voters.

These two Twitter storms have been created to show support for Corbyn and demonstrate that his opponents, in this case the deputy party leader, should go.

They certainly grabbed the attention of the media, but the very fact that the leader needs a social media campaign to demonstrate support is a sign of weakness.

If you are going for such a co-ordinated approach then you need, for instance, all the Shadow Cabinet, leaders of trade unions, his own MPs etc. to use the hashtag.

But this has not been the case.

Just because a hashtag is trending does not mean it is in any way effective.

During the election, the social media campaign was effective because it also provided a clear call to action – vote for Corbyn.

There is no action with either Twitter storm apart from the act of tweeting itself.

With all such campaigns it is difficult to know exactly whether you are changing minds or simply appealing to existing supporters. Tweets can come from responders as much as supporters.

Gizmodo has done a great breakdown of who was tweeting #WatsonResign including, er, Tom Watson MP himself in response.

The Twitter storms will have done nothing to change existing perceptions of Corbyn and will probably not have gained the party a single vote.

Such hashtag campaigns do nothing to break outside of existing political bubbles.

They show Labour’s continued deepening divide being played out over social media – a game of numbers that no-one will win.

Corbyn may use YouTube video to try to talk directly to his audience, but it is not clear whether that is his supporters or the wider electorate.

His approach is confused. Using Twitter is not going to unlock the impasse with the Jewish community or show voters that he is a potential PM.

The fact that the Labour leader needs a social media campaign in support shows he is in trouble.

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