I've no idea what the impact of social media will be to the outcome of the general election (6 May 2010). However, it's played a big role in making it one of the more enjoyable elections I can remember.
Traditional broadcast media have played some role in the higher levels of entertainment on offer and the US-style televised debates stand out here. However, it's on Twitter, Facebook and various ad-busting-style blogs and sites where the real fun's to be had.
What are the high points for me so far? Well, it's got to be the Tories' inept poster campaign (hey, thanks Michael Ashcroft) and the extraordinary speed, creativity and wit of the DIY digital image manipulators who've responded to it. Is England, in fact, a nation of PhotoShopkeepers?
So, in response to the cheesy and heavily airbrushed poster boy image of Cameron, we have the Mydavidcameron web site and dozens of user-generated spoofs. Flickr has a fair few images of more old-skool spray-can tactics (see Fuck off back to Eton) which also raise a smile. Cameron as posh, Toryboy (see the Common People spoof) is a common trope.
Every slogan - e.g. 'I've never voted Conservative before but ...' - becomes the set up for hundreds of gags like those found on the I've never voted Tory blog. It's a big, distributed parlour game with thousands joining in the fun.
There's a delightful escalation of the conflict going on: the more the Tories attempt to make their posters unspoofable, the more desirable a target they become to the "big society" (lol!) of DIY satirists (see Internet spoofs unspoofable Conservative poster). And the more the spoofs take off on Twitter and in the blogosphere, the more likely the phenomenon is to be reported in mainstream broadcast media. Yesterday, both Channel 4 news and The Guardian, for example, covered the reaction on Twitter - thousands of tweets using the #nickcleggsfault hashtag - to attacks against Clegg by the Murdoch press.
What's going on is really interesting; it feels like political satire is no longer the preserve of a few - the writers of Have I got news for you, Private Eye, In the Loop etc. - but the many. Is the best political satire now digital, distributed and user-generated? And will it make a difference?