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A Demos event worth turning up to

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, was a must see event

By Martin Bright

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a Demos event refereshingly free of connections with the Islamic extreme right. The speaker was Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising Without Organisations. Ed Miliband is a big fan of the NYU professor’s work on the political implications of the internet, but it has yet to have a real impact on the political scene on this side of the Atlantic.

He was a hugely enthusiatic and energetic speaker (why can’t British academics be this lively?), especially on the subject of Barack Obama’s use of the internet during the Democratic leadership race. I was intrigued to hear about the way the technology came back to bite Obama. The point of the my.BarackObama social networking site was to declare support for the candidate, raise money and create a network of likeminded individuals. The problem came when Obama adopted an unpopular policy position towards the Foreign Intelligence Services Act, which gave retroactive immunity from oversight for telecoms companies involved in surveillance of suspicious foreign individuals.

A group calling itself “President Obama, Please Get FISA Right” became one of the biggest groups on my.BarackObama.com, with nearly 24,000 members. As a result, Obama was forced to issue a statement clarifying his position.

There are immediate consequences for 21st century campaining that flow from this new politial culture. Obama learnt from the Howard Dean campaign of 2004, that an explicit online discussion of policies can lose you the nomination. He has therefore avoided any discussion of policy. He has now see that his attempts to broaden the base of his campaign have allowed campaigners to challenge decisions he can not avoid (i.e. votes in Congress). To his creditm he has allowed the group on FISA to remain on the site. But the temptation must be to further rein in any talk of policy. Is this a model for a new politics of hope in Britain? I’m not so sure.

Meanwhile, one source of hope is the Facebook group IslamExpo is a Hamas front. So far 86 comrades have signed up. Spread the word.

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