The Election, Flickr, Change We See and feedback loops.

I have just read a great blog post on the telegraph website written by Kate Day on the Labour Party’s recent Flickr campaign and the debacle that followed… Essentially Labour’s idea was simple, they feel they have made great changes to this country since 1997 and they were going to ask their supporters to upload pictures (or twitpic them with the tag #changewesee) that visually represent that positive change.

However, as Kate states, the problem with crowdsourcing is that the crowds do not always think in the same way, the problem here was obvious: the visual medium of photography is an area of real contention for Labour at the moment, some photographers would argue that the government abuses terror laws and stop and search powers when dealing with innocent public photography, indeed there is even a stong campaign group: I’m a photographer not a terrorist who organised against government laws last weekend.  So we can see where the problem is coming from…

Photographers (who are obviously going to be key users of Flickr and associated sites) began to upload a variety of posts into the photo pool outlining pictures of stop and search warrants issued to photographers, not so positive! That’s not good, however what came next is a real failure of Labour’s community management: Labour employees quickly went through and removed the images from the Flickr Pool and locked down the discussion group pages of the site to prevent new discussions being started, they also removed negative posts (not offensive, just negative) from the discussion pages.

This is a big challenge for the community editors and managers involved with this group, how do you deal with negative discussion, but social media is all about listening and learning, the Labour Party needs to understand that these people have a legitimate grievance with party policy that they want to air in a public and open discussion, if their content is gratuitous or violent then remove it, however if they are simply airing their legitimate grievance with your policy in the run up to an election then why not listen, engage and learn? Instead of removing their comments from the site and locking it down to oppress them why not talk to them? Why not be social? OK, so it is hard to hear negative comments about your organisation, it is even harder to see them on your own website or in response to your own campaign but that feedback is essential, after all these people are voters, they are part of that large group of people who will decide if you will run the country after the upcoming election so don’t shut them out!

This is important for all organisations engaging in the social web, listen and learn, however it is particularly important for political party’s! the Liberal Democracy that is supposed to exist in this country is all about people having the freedom to express themselves as they choose and have their opinions heard and acted upon by the politicians who represent them, in recent years there has been a growing level of concern from various sections of society on the power of our government to curtail our freedoms and limit our freedom of speech, right to protest etc. If the governing party of this country decides to stifle free and open debate on its policy by censoring pages as it has done then what does that do to the publics confidence in that party? If they will not listen to us or let us speak, on our terms, then why should we listen to them? Never mind vote for them!

In my opinion Labour missed a valuable opportunity to engage with  the community here, to open a real debate and understand an issue that is becoming an increasing concern to a lot of people, instead of fostering free and open debate and taking that valuable feedback on board and growing from it they stifled the debate and now they have to deal with the fallout, there is already a parody group on Flickr and more are sure to spring up…

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