Saturday, 12 November 2011

Getting the message across to Aycliffe

This rant is aimed at local Aycliffe people – mainly at Aycliffe Labour people. Although some of the principles involved have wider application, the specifics are solely about Aycliffe.

I am going to finish this rant by asking you to do some things, but I am going to start by asking you three questions.
- What are the three current DCC consultations affecting Aycliffe?
- What is Labour’s Plan for Jobs and Growth?
- Are you Blue Book, Purple Book or Red Book?

If you know the answers to all three, you are a very clever person and can probably stop reading.
If not, read on…

You see, I think we are woefully ignorant about political matters.
I’m not talking about the vast mass of people ‘out there’ whom we sometimes impugn, who would prefer to watch X-Factor than attend a GAMP meeting.
I’m not even solely talking about the rank-and-file of Labour Party members, whose ‘activism’ is often confined to attending the odd Branch meeting.
No – I’m talking about people who would like to think themselves ‘active’ in politics – local councillors, Branch chairs and secretaries, union reps and the like.

To be fair, I am not surprised that most of us are woefully ignorant about political matters. Now we are out of power and have a Tory government, it is almost impossible to keep up with the welter of government initiatives-in-power that need opposing, of County Council initiatives-in-response that need consulting and of Labour Party initiatives-in-opposition that need supporting.
If you are married with a job to hold down and a family to look after, I would think it is impossible to keep up with everything without neglecting your personal responsibilities.
And in a ‘stagflation’ world of increasing expense and falling real wages, it is expensive attending meeting after meeting, never mind going on conferences.
How CAN one keep up with what is going on?

When you go to Labour Party meetings on renewal, facebook and Twitter figure only slightly below direct intervention by the Almighty Himself as the great hope for salvation.
I don’t know about outreach – in fact I have my doubts – though I can tell you that facebook will be of no use in ANY way to the Party until Party members start to use it.

But Facebook could be THE ANSWER for the local Aycliffe Labour Party person who wants to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in local and national politics.

General Advice about Facebook
The thing to remember about facebook is that it is a social networking site. The clue to its nature lies in the two words ‘social’ … and ‘networking’.

The best way to imagine it is like an old-style pub from 20 years ago, full of groups of people sat round talking. You need to remember that you’ll be happiest if you sit with a group of people whom know you and who like you, and also to realise that you intervene in other groups’ discussions at your own risk.
When you join facebook you’ll be asked to seek ‘friends’ and you’ll be pestered by people asking you to be their ‘friend’. Some people have thousands of ‘friends’, and leave their facebook page open for all the world to see and contribute. My strong advice, especially if you are older or a bit nervous of the technology, would be to have only family and your closest friends as ‘friends’, and to set almost all your privacy settings to ‘friends’ only.

It is really easy to join facebook. When you have a facebook account, you will need to join the Newton Aycliffe Labour Group Of Branches (NALGOB).
When you have done so, you will be ready to go … either as a Lurker, or a Worker.

Facebook 'Lurkers'
There are many people who drop by the NALGOB page … and just look.
Especially when threads are getting a bit heated, there are many people who simply would not dare to contribute.
They are called ‘lurkers’.

I think this is a GREAT use of the medium. We don’t have many regular posters, but between us we cover a broad range of matters. Vince Crosby shares things about the NHS and other local government matters. Kate Hopper regularly directs our attention to the latest Labour Party initiative. Lilith Moon is our ‘radical’ – she acts as our political ‘conscience’ and posts about social justice matters. And of course, there’s me, usually ranting about one thing or another.

Facebook isn’t a very good place for a long rational argument (which is why I write my rants on this blog). So most posts consist of a simple comment such as: ‘This made my blood boil’, followed by a link to an external document (for instance a webpage, or a newspaper article).

If you are a ‘lurker’, if you visit the NALGOB facebook site regularly, it will be a simple matter to ‘keep in touch’ with what’s going on. You will visit the group page, and scroll down looking at the different topics. At best, you will be able to get an idea of what is kicking off, and who is saying what, simply from what you can see on the facebook page, but at worst it will merely need you to click and skim-read the link.

As you do so, regularly, you will find yourself becoming more up-to-date, and more politically-aware, and you will find your opinions becoming more formed and sophisticated.

Facebook 'Workers'
The Newton Aycliffe Labour Group Of Branches is organised as an open discussion/debate page.
(We have fought very hard to keep it as such in the face of opposition from people who thought it ought to ‘toe the Labour Party line’.)

That means that any NALGOB member – within the accepted rules of netiquette – has the right to say anything he or she likes about any topic on the page. There is no censorship and, unless you swear or become personally abusive, you can speak your mind without fear or favour.
Of course, you have at the same time to allow others the right to disagree with you, and it is up to members to keep discussions pleasant and restrained.
Where they are becoming a bit heated, someone usually steps in and calls for calm!

So, whilst we are delighted to host as many ‘lurkers’ as want to do so, we have a hope that you may one day start to contribute.

The nicest way to do this is to ‘like’ a post. It seems very little, but you have no idea how gratifying this is for someone who has posted their opinion online! Whether it is their first time or their millionth post, EVERYBODY gets a little thrill when they know that what they have said has been accepted by someone else … who agrees. Please throw your ‘likes’ around liberally – it builds up individual confidence and group morale.

Perhaps, one day, you will dare to join those people who post IN a thread. Perhaps you will share your ‘take’ on the issue, or just reinforce someone else’s view.
Or even – if you have come across something which is politically interesting or infuriating – you will start your own thread. Starting with a sentence explaining what it is all about and what you think about it, you will copy and paste the link and hit return. Publish and be damned, as they say! And you will have become one of those facebook ‘workers’ keeping the ‘lurkers’ entertained and informed.

Twitter will keep you more up-to-date than facebook, more quickly, more easily.

General Advice about Twitter
The thing which will help you understand about Twitter is to think of it as a bulletin board.
People who post on Twitter (‘tweeters’) have a Twitter account and, every time they have anything to say, they tap it in, send it off and put it out there! Unlike Facebook, Twitter has a length-limit (147 characters, including spaces), so what tweeters say is short, sweet and to the point. Like facebook, however, it IS possible to include a link to a bigger document, so you will find tweeters often make a short point, and then put the link to their blog, or a newspaper article etc.

Because you are allowed so few words, Twitter is NOT good for debates. I follow some pretty awesome political thinkers, but when they get into an argument with someone else the ‘debate’ dissolves into a series of clever-dick, bitchy ‘retorts’ from which neither side comes out well, to be honest.
Rather, Twitter is about getting information and ideas ‘out there’, where they can work their effect.

Listening to the Twitter
Signing up for Twitter is even easier than signing up for facebook but – if that is all you do – you will never get anybody else’s tweets (and nobody will ever read what you tweet).

So you need to find people to ‘follow’. You find these people in a number of ways. If you know their Twitter-name, you can ‘search’ for them. Also, you will find that Twitter bombards you with ideas of people whom it thinks you might want to follow. And as you go on, you will find other people who seem ‘OK’. It’s easy to ‘follow’ them – you just click on the name, then click on ‘follow’.
‘Following’ someone simply means that, every time they tweet, you get to see it on your timeline.

I strongly advise you to follow sparingly. There is a temptation to follow the BBC, CNN, the Huffington Post, afneil etc., but all that happens is that every minute you get thousands of tweets arriving from all across the world and there is no way you can read them. Instead, my advice would be to choose a small group of people to suit your interests, and keep to them.

I, for example, follow family and friends, a few History Teachers, and a small group of people caught up in the Bahrain atrocities. For politics, I have found the following people informative and challenging, whilst being able to keep up with their posts:

(and of course @johndclare).

Twitter – better than any other way on earth – will keep you informed and up-to-date about the issues that matter to you. I knew about #Occupy three days before it reached the BBC News, and have followed heartbreaking minute-by-minute tweets about massacres in Syria and Bahrain which never made British TV or newspapers at all. This is the kind of thing that, when you read it, you copy the link and post it straight onto the facebook NALGOB page!

And, as for finding out about Aycliffe issues, I am asking everybody who posts something relevant about Newton Aycliffe to add #Aycliffe to their tweet. This way, if you enter #Aycliffe into your search box, you will be able to see everything that has been tweeted recently about Aycliffe.

Again, the key is to check into your Twitter account every day. I have bookmarked my email, NALGOB fb and Twitter pages, and I simply go in and check all three every day in the same way that I pick up and read the letters which the postman puts through my letter box.

Tweeting on Twitter – Getting the Message Out There!
As time goes on, you will collect a small group of ‘followers’ – people who have asked to be sent your tweets. Unlike facebook, you cannot stop this – you are not asked to approve ‘followers’ in the way that facebook asks you to approve ‘friends’ – though you can block pests.

I have assembled a very eclectic group of followers including – as well as family and friends – some History teachers, some history students who use my revision website, some people from Bahrain, a smattering of windfarm campaigners and a few Labour activists … and an American TV executive! Some people, in a vulgar way, have thousands of followers; I prefer a small select audience. Quality not Quantity.
But whoever they are, every time I tweet, every one of them gets to know what I have said.

The other way I am asking people to ‘get the message out there’, however, is that when you think or find something about Aycliffe that you want to tweet, please add the #Aycliffe tag to your post, and it will appear on the #Aycliffe timeline for the Twitter-lurkers to read.

You will have realised that neither facebook nor Twitter are particularly ‘outreach’ tools and to be blunt they never will be or can be. They are not RECRUITMENT tools, and they most certainly do not make the initial approach.
On neither facebook nor Twitter are you forced to receive information or statements you did not ask for – you only get to hear from people whom you WANT to hear from.

Having said that, both facebook and Twitter ARE open to anyone who WISHES to listen, and so – eventually – we might hope that people will join to see what we are saying, because they are interested. Personally, as the Tory cuts bite, I suspect we will see this more and more.

But for people to gain a benefit when they DO decide to check us out, we need to be using the media positively and impressively.

Therefore, I am asking you all personally PLEASE to:
1. sign up to Twitter and facebook, and join the Newton Aycliffe Labour Group of Branches group (if you do not know how, ask someone like Mark Catmull or me to show you).
2. bookmark and check the NALGOB fb and #Aycliffe pages every day when you check your emails.
3. ‘like’ posts and contribute to debates on facebook, and tweet to the #Aycliffe, whenever there is something people ought/might like to know.

We are in a cyber war. The Independents have twice tried and failed to run a website. Now we need to ‘fill the ether’!

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