The True Face of Facebook Democracy

Following the defeat of Ken Livingstone in the London Mayoral Elections in May 2008 I set up a Facebook page called ‘Boris Watch’. The idea of the page was to monitor the new Mayor Boris Johnson and it quickly gained over 3000 members.

The noticeboard was extremely busy, with members (and Boris supporters) debating issues – but it seems Facebook have decided that their pages are not to be used for this purpose.

Facebook Bans Boris Watch

The high handed nature of Facebook is clearly evidence that they are confident that their size means it does not matter if they make decisions like this, close down forums of discussion with no notice and then threaten users.

The magic of Web 2.0 is that both fans of the page and many of those of do not agree with the content will be outraged by their action, and as other social network sites build they could find that many find themselves building their on-line networks with sites that do not dictate in such a high handed way.

What is interesting is their own explanation says ‘Facebook Pages are special profiles used solely for commercial, political or charitable purposes’. So is holding the Mayor of London to account not political?

Here is the full message…

You created a Page that has violated our Terms of Use, and this Page has been removed. Facebook Pages are special profiles used solely for commercial, political, or charitable purposes. Among other things, Pages that are hateful, threatening, or obscene are not allowed. We also take down Pages that attack an individual or group, or that are set up by an unauthorized individual. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit the Terms applicable to Facebook Pages at http://www.facebook.com/terms_pages.php.

I acknowledge I have read this information.

So I now have to acknowledge but have no form of redress. I cannot appeal against the decision and face my account being closed if I make too much noise against Facebook. Is this the face of Facebook Democracy?
A group against Facebook’s action has now been set up – it will be interesting to see if this gets banned and with it my Facebook account. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=18723836564
Coverage of Facebook censorship of Boris Watch

Other related sites

Update
A new Boris Watch has been set up, we wait to see if Facebook continue their previous action and close it down as well.

Update

Boris Watch has moved to Hi5 the fastest growing social network which could soon be a real threat to Facebooks dominance. Maybe if Hi5 gets even bigger they may think moreĀ about how they treat their users.

Facebook and blogging – the future of Elections

In recent months the prominence of the internet in elections has become increasingly evident. With increasing numbers of voters using the internet the need to get your online campaigning strategy right is more important than ever before.

In the 2008 London Mayoral elections I spotted that both Conservative Boris Johnson and Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick were using the Facebook pages service, with Brian running Facebook and Google adverts. I immediately set up a page for Labours Ken Livingstone and at that time Boris had around 5,000 supporters and Brian around 1,000.

By election day Boris had over 9,000 supporters, Brian around 2,300 and Ken nearly 3,000. By not being there at the beginning and without a clear link with Ken’s only profile page a huge opportunity to reach out to supporters was missed. With Facebook pages I was able to easily email supporters who had signed up to the page and their support was clearly demonstrated on their own Facebook profile in a box that shows which pages they are subscribed to.

During the election I spent many hours collecting, sorting and delivering leaflets – many of which would have gone straight into the recycling. On election day I spent the whole day knocking on hundreds of doors of people who were mostly out and would be surprised if I reached more than a hundred to remind them to vote.

When I set up the Facebook page for Ken it must have taken less than an hour. On election day his page had over 1,000 views and over 13,000 in 8 weeks. If the page had been officially recognised with fresh content of photographs and video footage added on a regular basis the number of views would have been even higher. Discussion boards could have been used to garner opinion on key issues and the emailing facility used to encourage supporters to help with the campaign and keep them informed of progress.

It seems ridiculous spending so much time attempting to reach those who in the majority are not interested and no time at all on those who clearly are looking for the information within their network. It is not sufficient to just create a website you need to go their networks creating facebook pages, a blog and create a YouTube Channel. Each time you add new content to your site it is then quick and easy to add this to the appropriate network as well.

I am not suggesting that because the Facebook page was not utilised properly that Ken Livingstone lost the election. I am not suggesting that Facebook replaces leaflets and other traditional forms of campaigning. The fact is though, with very little effort, new technologies can be used to reach potential and current supporters. If you do not utilise these and keep abreast of how they are changing and the opportunities these changes give you – your opponents will.

In my experience the politicians who claim that online is not important this is more to do with their lack of knowledge and fear of the technology. What I say to them is that you do not have to understand everything, but trust those that do, and spare some of your very busy time to learn what you can. If you do not you will have a lot more time on your hands when the opponent who is ahead of the game beats you.

The campaign for 2012 London election has started already with the creation of the Boris Watch Facebook Page.

Update: 4 May: Boris Watch Facebook page now has over 1,000 fans, it took 24 days to reach that number of supporters for the Ken Livingstone page that I set up during the election campaign. Clearly the level of passion and interest is currently at its highest, however it is also interesting that a negative page (against Boris) should grow faster than a positive page (for Ken).

So do I need a ‘Facebook Page’

Facebook have introduced ‘pages’. I have started talking about the need to set up one of these new type of pages on Facebook to politicians but given that they are already under huge pressure from attempting to maintain their websites, youtubes, email, facebook profile, etc, their initial reaction has not been positive. I have been told that they do not have time to maintain what they already have, let alone set something else.

It’s not that long ago that the same was said to me about setting up politician websites, and less time that an MP said they didn’t have time for a Facebook profile (which the individual still does not have and is missing out on a huge opportunity to reach out to constituence). So when will politicians realise if they do not utilise these methods of communication first then their opponents will?

There are major benefits to Facebook pages for businesses and politicians, unlike groups Facebook members can become ‘fans’ of products / musicians or ‘supporters’ in the case of politicians. Facebook pages offer statistics showing the demographics of those supporting or fans of your pages together with visitors, video and picture views. With these you can then see if it is really worth maintaining the page.

When a Facebook user becomes a fan or supporter your page will appear in your profile as one of the users ‘pages’. This is far more prominent than groups which are a simple text line.

One of the biggest benefits is from the search listing. Not long after setting up a Facebook profile you will find it’s public listing on Google, which will generally rank this high due to the popularity of the site. By setting up a Facebook page you will generate a separate listing, helping you dominate with pages you influence the top positions in search returns for your name of product.

Searching Facebook pages shows that American politicians, or their supporters at least, are catching on.

Barack Obama is massively outstripping

Hillary Clinton in supporters in this new type of Facebook method of promoting individuals and products. I suspect that the difference in numbers of supporters is more related to the adoption of this new form of communications rather than a direct correlation to the level of support of Olbama and Hillary respectively.

It will not be long when a politician who does not have time to create a Facebook page, let alone profile, may not have time to get elected.

Setting up Facebook pages
Setting up a Facebook page is very simple, all you need is a Facebook profile to get started. At least you just have to add a picture together some details about you which you can cut-and-paste from another piece of your publicity. You can disable the ‘wall’ if you will not have time to monitor the page, and control the amount of interaction by adding discussion boards etc if you do have time to maintain the page.

After setting up make sure you have some friends who can become a ‘supporter’ which you can then invite – not forgetting to become a supporter yourself (this is not automatic).