Matt Jones

The UK needs the independent web

The bloggers were a major force for political change in the United States, and in the run up to the US election, the presidential candidates were listening to them. They helped shape public opinion, an army of geeks facilitated a faultless online campaign and now Obama is revolutionising how the web is used to communicate to the American people.

Why do we seem so far away from such a grassroots effort in the UK? After all, it is something we need as the recession bites and our civil liberties are being eroded by a government bent on control though the pretence of protecting us, secure beneath watchful eyes.

It seems to me that UK blogs, ones which might affect change and have UK politicians listening, have and continue to be marginalised - not necessarily intentionally - by our large public service broadcasting and news organisation, the BBC.

The BBC’s significance to UK web users is huge; much like it fostered the UK home computing revolution in the eighties, it has been playing a key role in internet literacy since the mid nineties. Because of this, I believe that web surfing habits in the UK are kind of gravitationally bound to it.

Take, for example, the surge in the number of Twitter users in recent months after cross-media patronage by the BBC. No doubt it did the same for the blogging phenomenon towards the start of the decade, but it’s always Auntie Beeb that’s ruffling the hair of these new and potentially powerful online communication tools. The BBC’s approach seems to be a) how can we integrate this popular technology into the services provide, but b) make sure it doesn’t impact on our status as a major service provider so that we can continue to justify the licence fee.

Particularly at the start of the decade, much of the British media treated bloggers as self-serving loons who had nothing to say except for uninformed gossip and dull introspections on on their lives (much like what the Daily Mail says about Twitterers these days).

Of course, it irks professional journalists to see amateurs publishing opinion pieces without rigorous fact checking and sub-editing in place. In America, on the other hand, where quality journalism is spread very thinly or not at all and where there is no public service broadcaster people call Auntie, bloggers are seen both as a valuable source of the truth and as a powerful force for political change.

As a nation, we need this respect for the independent voice. After all, it’s the people that affect  change in a democracy, and we now have the technology for everyone’s voice to be heard.

With a controlling government, one which actively seeks to conceal information that is in the public interest, and one which threatens to take away our civil liberties (just listen to any interview with Jacqui Smith), we need a change.

So, let’s make our voices heard, preferably not just using proprietary and rather unstable platforms like Twitter.