In the past fortnight, the world of social media has been swamped by two significant trends: #CameronMustGo and, almost synonymously, #webackEd. On the face of it, this is extremely humiliating for the British Prime Minister because Ed Miliband’s support on social media seems to directly contradict what is written in most of the mainstream press. However, it is not quite that clear cut. The reality is that these trends reveal more about the dwindling power of Rupert Murdoch and other News barons than they do about David Cameron’s popularity.
According to The Guardian, there were over 180,000 #CameronMustGo tweets over the weekend. This is a remarkable figure. It is also embarrassing and will worry a lot of Conservative voters, but it is by no means Armageddon. Not yet anyway. The ‘silent majority’ is a voting group that, by definition, is overlooked in opinion polls and social media trends. The term was coined by Richard Nixon when he believed that the majority of Americans were in support of his policies while those who opposed and protested the war in Vietnam made up a ‘noisy minority’. Admittedly this is not the most inspiring political debate to draw comparison to: Nixon was later shamed by the Watergate scandal while the Vietnam War has been remembered in solely catastrophic terms. Nevertheless, the term ‘silent majority’ was not only astute but it has stood the test of time. It is also extremely relevant to the #CameronMustGo debate because the view that political fanatics make more noise than ordinary working people is entirely logical.
The Pew Research Centre recently studied a similar issue: ‘the spiral of silence.’ This is the tendency of people not to speak up about policy issues in public when they believe their own point of view is not widely shared. This is particularly apparent with perceivably right-of-centre views. One only has to look at the consistently lower popularity of right-of-centre parties in opinion polls compared to their performances in general elections. This is a global trend and it suggests that people are less willing to publicly reveal perceivably right wing leanings but readily pledge their allegiance in the anonymous ballot box. Social media is particularly vulnerable to this ‘spiral of silence’.
If we are to apply this to the recent #webackEd and #CameronMustGo trends, the outlook may not be quite so bleak for the Prime Minister. Twitter can not only be vulnerable to peer pressure but also bullying. The #CameronMustGo trend does not, in my view, fall into the bullying category. It is a statement expressing disaffection with the government while #webackEd was a reaction to the persistent and vicious attacks in the tabloid press on the Labour leader. However, the idea of a silent majority and a spiral of silence on social media is entirely rational. Particularly with the #CameronMustGo trend, it suggests that the view could be one of a fanatical minority encouraged and exaggerated by the cauldron of peer pressure that Twitter can be.
Whatever your political leanings, there are some tremendous positives to the trends. Both #webackEd and #CameronMustGo directly undermine the media dominance of tycoons like Rupert Murdoch. They are the views of the people, written by the people and published by the people. The trends may well be more of a reflection of a fanatical minority than a nationwide outcry of disaffection but there is little doubt that the political climate on social media is markedly different to the climate depicted in Murdoch’s newspapers. For David Cameron, only time will tell, but these trends have made it clear that Rupert Murdoch’s empire could finally be coming to an end.