Friday, 15 February 2013

SaveTheHour: Internet Campaigning

The BBC recently announced that, after two series and an impenetrable cliffhanger,  50s Newsroom drama, The Hour, is to be axed. This news created waves amongst the fans of the show, which have rippled across the internet since, culminating in a series of campaigns, petitions, twitter tags and attention grabbing articles objecting to the decision and imploring the BBC to rethink. Seeing the fervent backlash (this example, in particular, resonates) led me to interesting questions about how the internet has been harnessed as a tool for pressure campaigning. 

It is unlikely that The Hour will return; press reports from the BBC make it clear that the show will be replaced with new and upcoming dramas, but this has not deterred fans from expressing their support of the show in a multitude of ways. Tumblr, a sharing based micro-blogging site, provides the perfect backdrop for viral campaigning. As on Facebook, users like and reblog from their dashboards, but unlike Facebook, which focusses on social networking functions, Tumblr has become a centre of culture (TV fans, book fans, film fans unite!) and, most importantly, creativity. If something becomes a meme on Tumblr, it can be shared between tens of thousands of people at a few clicks; the potential of this for campaigning stretches beyond fandom, most notably having been employed by Barack Obama’s presidential committee.

Within minutes of the show’s cancellation, The Hour’s tumblr stream exploded with artworks, articles and outrage. Within a day the Save The Hour campaign started to go viral, linking Tumblr with the twitter tag (#SaveTheHour), a Facebook group of the same name and an online petition (now toting over 20,000 signatures and rising). The key to this was making the campaign accessible to fans: blog posts advertising the links to each of these things, sporting graphics that would not have looked out of place in a government propaganda campaign, and above all information about the campaign itself. This allowed fans who might not have been aware that they could write to the BBC the means to do exactly that, and become actively involved in the campaign. 

It is no secret that any site with a member count as high as Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr quickly becomes a powerful force; instant access to others with the same, strong opinions on anything from political views to favourite TV shows provides the perfect backdrop for these ideas to snowball and for movements to come together. By spreading a campaign such as Save The Hour across multiple platforms, the fans have increased the campaigns exposure; furthermore - whether the BBC decide to commission another series or not - they have come in together a force of which I believe the show’s main character, the integrity-driven, news-hungry reporter Freddie Lyon, would have been proud. 


  1. While it is undeniable that the numbers of people who are reached by and subsequently join online campaigns and petitions are impressive, the usefulness of these contributors to a cause is often somewhat questionable. By providing such an easy means with which to join a cause such as complaining about a change in TV programming schedules, the creators of these groups create an opportunity with a very low level of investment, risk and commitment on the part of the contributor. Clicking 'like' on a Facebook page, adding one's e-mail to an online petition or adding text to a screenshot are all actions which fall somewhat short in terms of taking to the streets with burning effigies of the suspiciously-named John Smith.

    It is for this reason that online campaigns are usually not treated with a great amount of seriousness by organisations. The ease with which these campaigns are created and joined means that a huge number appear in a short amount of time, and while one may take precedence for a short while, it is often not long before something else becomes fashionable and earlier causes forgotten. For example: whatever happened to “KONY 2012”? Is Africa fixed yet?

    The online world is itself an abstract construct and, as a result, is often somewhat difficult to pin down or to bring to bear on real physical activities (although it may be argued that the same could be said of cultural ideals or just about anything else). Had the series been a lucrative enough investment, then it is probably reasonable to expect that it would have been retained as part of the schedule, but low returns and viewer numbers means that it is not sensible for a channel to continue funding it's creation. Surely these figures speak more loudly than the numbers of online petitions or people creating blog posts about how the BBC is trying to earn money by giving people TV they don't want (I'm not sure about the logic behind this). Shows like Eastenders are not being kept on out of nostalgia or spite – they are what most people watch.

    I agree that the ability to reach a very large number of people through online campaigns is very useful and allows the online community to be used as a very powerful tool, but I think that it also allows some spurious causes to snowball out of proportion due to the anonymity provided by an online identity, and the ability for anyone (with any amount of experience, knowledge or forethought) to add their voice to an argument that is not always necessary.

  2. Online petitions can often be a forceful thing, our university for example has used them in order to express protest against courses being cut. I do agree however with James, online petitions very often do not have any bearing on their aim. It does however strengthen the sense of unity in that people can fight for the same thing.


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