When I sent out my first newsletter in January 2016, I wanted to share useful tips on making Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat work better, and be upbeat and positive about using social media in the first place. I had a simple metric to decide which stories to use – ones that got the most link clicks on Twitter!
Four years on, we’re in a very different place. I’m seeing less interest in social media tips and higher engagement around broader, more political stories. My top tweets from the last 12 months included links to articles on surveillance, child safety, and geopolitics. It felt like I needed a new voice for changing times.
So this month I’m launching a brand new newsletter: Free Speech.
Free Speech will cover the big talking points in social media every month. Taking a look at what’s been popular on my Twitter feed over the last year, here are the types of story I think you’ll see:
1. Keeping social media free
Unlike traditional media, social media have no gatekeepers. Anyone with internet access (60 per cent of the global population) can have a voice and build a network. From young Moroccans talking openly about sexual activity on Facebook (in a country where sex outside marriage is a jailable offence – listen to Leila Slimani on Start The Week) to the spread of movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #FridaysForFuture, this free access is a powerful and important thing (see Why social media are still worth saving).
2. Protecting personal freedoms
We may not pay in cash to set up a social media account, but we’re likely to hand over intrinsic rights to the platform owner when we sign the terms and conditions. Data protection and privacy are crucial issues in the future of social media. Organisations like the Open Data Institute, the Open Rights Group, doteveryone and the UK government are doing what they can to hold the big tech platforms to account, but there’s far more work to be done.
3. Speaking out against censorship
Despite “freedom of expression” being protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracies in general are seeing a decline in political rights and civil liberties. (See Freedom in the World 2019). Increasingly, national security is cited as a reason to override traditional democratic values like transparency, open debate and press freedom. Meanwhile, individuals are called out and bullied on social media for saying what they think. Women, and particularly BAME women, are disproportionately trolled online.
4. Telling the truth
The corporate tradition of telling lies for self-protection infuriates me. While this may work in the short term, protecting shareholder value and people’s jobs, it’s simply not sustainable in the long run. As well as being about the freedom to express an opinion, free speech is also about being free to speak up, call out and whistle-blow. It’s also about being free to tell the truth about yourself.
5. Celebrating creativity
While the rest of the newsletter may be coming over all socio-cultural-political, I still want to share any work that catches my eye and inspires me. What’s not to like about a great campaign or stunningly imaginative way of using social media? Stuff like the Dorset rap from Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, the £100 Christmas “ad of the year” or Lush UK basing its whole social strategy on a hashtag should still make the cut. And, of course, this isn’t just about speech but creative expression in its broadest form. All social content, from video and podcasts through to private messaging and augmented reality will be covered. The ways we communicate and how they’re changing continue to fascinate me – and you too, I hope!
The first edition of Free Speech is out tomorrow. Sign up here. It’s free 🙂