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UK poll: ‘It’s the social media wot won it’ for Labour

Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn did not win the election, but have the air of a victory after the party won more seats and votes than its 2015 tally, substantially credited to their resonance in social media.

world Updated: Jun 28, 2017 18:19 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
British journalism,Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn,Conservative Party
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (left) at the Glastonbury Festival with organiser Michael Eavis on June 24.(AP)

Has the formidable powerof the tabloid press in Britain’s elections lost its bite?

Openly backing a party on the eve of polls is a long tradition in British journalism, but there is increasing evidence that the June 8 election was the “real social media election”.

The red-top tabloid press’ influence is best symbolised by the 1992 gloating headline in The Sun, “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”, claiming credit for the Conservative Party’s win. The recent election also saw leading broadsheets and tabloids making their party preference known.

Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn did not win the election, but have the air of a victory after the party won more seats and votes than its 2015 tally. The remarkable turnaround for Corbyn and the party has been substantially credited to their resonance in social media.

Many believe the power over British politics of the tabloids – particularly The Sun and Daily Mail – may have been broken.

Helen Margetts, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, believes June 8 was the first election when social media campaigns really made the difference to the relative fortunes of parties, rather than traditional media.

In the 2015 election, many attributed the Conservative success in part to its massive expenditure on targeted Facebook advertising, 10 times more than Labour. The tabloids were relentless in attacking Labour, which showed in the results.

But in 2017, according to Margetts, there were three reasons for Labour’s campaign making “a huge positive difference” in its gains: increased turnout of young people (who were attracted by Labour’s promise of abolishing tuition fees), Labour overtookthe Conservative Party in reaching out across social platforms used by the young with an “incredibly efficient advertising strategy”, and for the first time, tabloid headlines looked vulnerable from confrontation from social media.

A leaflet from Croydon pointing out that “Even your Dad has more Facebook friends” than the 2015 vote difference between Conservative and Labour, and showing hip-hop artiste Stormzy saying “Vote Labour!” was shared millions of times.

“(For) the Conservatives, social media are just for elections. Instead, Labour have been using these channels for two years now — Corbyn has been active on Snapchat since becoming Labour leader in 2015,” Margetts wrote in a post-election analysis of social media.

“That means that by the time of the election, Corbyn and various fiercely pro-Labour online-only news outlets like the Canary had acquired a huge following among this demographic, meaning not having to pay for ads.

“And if you have followers to spread your message, you can be very efficient with advertising spend. While the Conservatives spent more than £1m on direct advertising with Facebook etc, nearly 10 million people watched pro-Labour videoson Facebook that cost less than £2K to make.”

There were examples of online versions of tabloids having different takes to the screaming headlines their print versions had published: “Digital natives are used to real-time information, they are never going to be swayed by something so clearly past its sell-by-date.”

According to Margetts, there is some evidence that the relentless negativity of the Conservative advertising campaign against Corbyn and the Labour Party actually put off young people.

First Published: Jun 28, 2017 18:19 IST