Outrage Brigade

There is no doubt that social media has changed our world forever. This might sound like an overstatement, but when you think about the mobilising capacity of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and the influence this capacity has had on historic events such as Barack Obama’s 2008 US election victory and the Arab Spring, it’s clear that ‘people power’ has been given a new tool. But how do we best use this tool to make real change?

Over the last few months, social media and independent voices in the blogosphere have become a useful platform for mass activism. Whereas once Alan Jones’s comment at a Young Liberal function and Mitt Romney’s thoughts on the 47% might have been fodder for a news article, the resulting outrage at these statements would never have been shared in quite the same way as they have thanks to the connecting of voices on social media. I think this is the biggest change we have seen in the media landscape – whereas once we might have read something in a newspaper and been individually pissed off, we can now be outraged together. Millions of us. And we can do something about it. The mainstream media haven’t come to grips with this concept yet. We no longer need corporate media to tell us what we think about incidents that are important to our political and social fabric.

If the mainstream media decides not to accurately report, or give any weight to the obvious fact of Tony Abbott’s sexism and misogyny, this fact is no longer hidden or swept under the carpet, as it once would have been. Who cares if Michelle Grattan decides not to write about the outcomes of a particular policy, or if Peter Hartcher is obsessed with Labor leadership tensions that are completely irrelevant to our community? Who cares if Annabel Crabb wants to be a comedian rather than a political journalist? We don’t need these opinions anymore, as we have each others – which we can readily share. When enough like-minded opinions are shared and acted on – this becomes a movement. And this is totally outside of the mainstream media’s control.

One example of such movements was the reaction to Jill Meagher’s murder – 120,000 joined a Facebook group to help find her in the days after her disappearance and over 10,000 people mobilised to march in her memory. Then there was the Alan Jones advertiser backlash after his vile comments about the Prime Minister’s father’s death. I don’t think this social media campaign was just about the one comment – it was a reaction to the existence of people like Alan Jones in our media who think they can be bigoted, disrespectful liars and influence others to be the same, and are paid handsomely to do so. Ironically, the people involved in this social media activism were labeled ‘cyber bullies’ by Jones, and many in the mainstream media wrote off this campaign as ‘Twitter outrage’ rather than what it really was – a large group of people voicing our dissatisfaction and wielding our ‘people power’ to bring about change.

An example of the mainstream media’s attitude towards social media activism is displayed in this recent Tweet from Joe Hildebrand:

‘The social media outrage brigade’. It’s so easy to downplay the power of social media activism by pretending that people on social media aren’t really people (and consumers, voters and influencers in our communities). And that somehow our reactions on social media aren’t human reactions. The more the likes of Hildebrand maintain this ridiculous attitude, the further behind they are going to fall in this new age. There is absolutely no doubt that the campaign against Alan Jones has dented his credibility. There is no doubt that his advertisers won’t be forgetting this.

It’s important to remember that our levels of outrage at certain events hasn’t changed – I would have been just as outraged as I was about Jones’s comments 15 years ago as I am today. The only difference is, today I can share my outrage and take part in a campaign to do something about it. This outcome is much more potent than a letter to the editor, an angry email to 2GB or a rant to friends about how infuriated I am.

I like to think about other times in our recent history where social media might have made a difference to the outcome of events that affected all of us. For instance, how would George W. Bush’s election victory scandal in 2000 have been affected by social media? Call me an optimist, but I think the Bush camp would have had major trouble pulling a swifty like they did, if there were literally millions of people with their fingers on a ‘share’ button during the crucial vote-counting hours. Bush’s cousin, John Ellis, was in position of incredible power when he decided to call the election result on Fox News before counting in Florida was finished. Had this influence been watered down by the voices of American voters on social media, would Al Gore have capitulated so quickly?

Even more important than the reaction to the election being called for Bush, would have been the availability of more facts during that evening. For instance, while the vote was still obviously too close to call, the five major US TV news networks – CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and CNN – all incorrectly reported that the Florida polls closed at 7:00pm. They actually closed at 8:00pm. An estimated 15,000 people did not turn out to vote in the key state of Florida because they thought they’d missed their chance. Had social media been available, the voters wouldn’t have been relying on five TV stations. Could this mistake have such an influence in 2012?

We live in exciting times. We can now share facts, opinions and insights without the gatekeepers of mainstream media deciding for us what we are allowed to know. We can now share outrage and turn these shared reactions into change. This capacity is in its very early stages – but look how it has developed in Australia in just the last two months. Imagine this time next year when we will be voting in a Federal election. How might our newfound realisation that mass media is irrelevant, and that social media activism really does work, affect the result? I can’t wait to see for myself.


  1. ‘Players’ like Crabb and Joe are intent on dsimissing SM with humour. The joke is on them really. Some of the traditional media are trying to engage – The Kouk, Grog, come to mind – but largely they are slow-moving dinosaurs who deserve no pity, and much scorn.

    Their ineptitude is ironic, really. No fucking idea (heh, McCrann?).

  2. Whether the Old Media recognises it or not is largely irrelevant from here on in. The market certainly is aware of the impact the internet is having on their 19th century business models.

    Witness the tanking share prices of Fairfax, Seven and Ten, and Nine still hovering on the edge of bankruptcy.

    Creative Destruction in action.

  3. The main stream media is no longer relevant and that’s totally their own fault for printing such biased ill-researched twaddle that focuses on the trivial and tedious instead of real issues that matter.

  4. The “old” mainstream media still control enough Public opinion (as what happened in Queensland) to trick voters by using one sided reporting and daily misinformation campaigns to elect Tony Abbott/LNP.

    don’t blame the (dumb?) public as most are only reacting to their only information source which is still largely the MSM, and the MSM are fully aware of that, they are currently exploiting that power while they still can, if they are successful in getting the coalition elected, social media will be heavily regulated (despite what they say about regulation) to keep them in power

    What Australia urgently needs is a respected professional(s) to find a way to (1) unite social media to bring MSM back to balanced factual reporting (2) to target the MSM audience and demonstrate/inform them that they still are and have been manipulated and before the next election before it is too late.

  5. So true and very succinctly written.

    I love how Hilderbrand uses Twitter to denounce it’s effectiveness. The MSM as our only source of news is history and it’s the old dinosaurs of the media who will be the losers because they have failed to realise this.

  6. Outdated media have rendered themselves obsolete. Their continued ‘us vs. them’ arrogance ensures that they remain so.

    By arrogantly sticking to their old business models and refusing to adapt to both changing technologies & consumer demands & behaviours, whilst simultaneously failing to respond to competitors cannibilising their revenue streams, they have ensured the death of their industry.

    Compounding the problem with failure to research, fact-check and provide quality analysis, and substituting it with poorly formed opinion has ensured their demise. Blaming your customers for your continued poor performance is not helping your cause.

    Outdated media have a choice, return to fact based, well researched quality analysis and you may survive, don’t and you will be looking for new jobs.

  7. Interesting that, as I read this post, I am halfway through writing a story for my local paper based on a comment that attracted more than 50 likes and many subsequent comments on our Facebook page. In this case, “social media outrage” has led my newspaper to put in the research that no-one else has the time to do and put questions to the people they would otherwise have no need track down. Old-school media is alive and kicking in many quarters – we journos just need to give social media the credit is due by listening to ideas, doing the legwork and returning the answers.

  8. One thing that will become fascinating is the developing use of fact checking. It will prove to be a very powerful tool, and one person @TheKouk comes to mind in the economic area.

  9. After the 1999 State election in Victoria I was talking to a neighbour who said that the result surprised him as he didn’t think other people were thinking like him about the Kennett Government. I am not a new media type person but it is clear that people today are far more connected and when they are feeling that things are not right, they are able to share their misgivings and concerns and discover they are not alone.

  10. Du – Juan Harris – RB Green Bay Packers Although he hinted that he would go back to selling cars in the offseason, I have a feeling that Du –
    Juan Harris will not be on any car lot at the beginning of the
    2013 NFL season. The advent from the internet has dramatically changed the way in which bets are placed on football or soccer.
    Among those that came out in the wish list is a better line play, addition of team entrances,
    and crowd atmosphere.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s