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Become an activist and help improve the quality of political debate

Communicators have an opportunity to make the General Election campaign the best possible conversation about the future of the UK. Here’s how.

Whatever your view of UK Prime Minister Theresa May she has pulled a shrewd political move in calling a General Election on 8 June 2017.

Everyone has the opportunity to become politically active and contribute to improve engagement and debate.

Professional communicators who aren’t in politically restrictive posts have a responsibility to use their skills to make the General Election campaign the best possible conversation about the future of the UK.

Theresa May has stated this is an election on Brexit. She’s seeking a mandate for a so-called hard Brexit.

I firmly believe in the peace and stability of the European Union, the free movement of people, and open trade.

My support will go to whichever candidate most closely shares my vision for our relationship with the European Union.

Newsfeed fatigue

There’s been a lot of frustration in my social media feeds this week about the current state of politics in the UK.

The Conservative party appears to have an unassailable lead in the polls.

Northern Ireland and Scotland want to remain in the European Union and are prepared to seek independence.

The Labour party is a weak opposition and the Lib Dems remain tainted by the compromises they made during the coalition government of 2010 to 2015.

The mainstream media is right of the government and driving the hard-Brexit agenda.

In hindsight it’s understandable why the UK voted for Brexit. Outside the London bubble, people are worn down by job uncertainty, wage deflation and the twin policy of austerity and deficit reduction.

Theresa May’s political manoeuvring aside we’ve been given a second chance. We’re got 50 days to bring about change.

Your call to action

I regret not being more politically active during the EU Referendum. I won’t be making that mistake again.

I’m keen to use my skills and influence to fight this election so that the UK remains in the EU and has a stronger, more united government.

Raging on Facebook or Twitter helps no one. The algorithms will ensure that your posts are only seen by people that agree with you.

There are lots of ways that you can get involved in the General Election to improve the quality of the debate around the election.

#1 Listening to publics

Start by listening. Not to your social media feeds. We learnt from the Referendum that they’re a bubble.

Instead seek out and engage with polarised views. Meeting people face to face in your local constituency is the best place to start.

#2 Activism and campaigning

Second become politically active. Sign up to the political party that represents your views and apply your skills to support its goal.

We’re currently in a hiatus but it will quickly settle once Parliament is dissolved. Election manifestos will be published in the coming weeks.

Campaigning on behalf of a candidate is almost certainly the best way to apply your expertise. Offer your services locally.

#3 Content creation and community management

With a dominant right wing mainstream media it is likely that local media, owned media and social media will play a critical role in the election.

According to the Office for National Statistics the size of the UK electorate at the end of 2016 was 46 million. Facebook Ad Planner estimates that 41 million of these people have accounts.

But digital strategist Rob Blackie advises caution. He’s written an excellent primer about the technology hype around elections.

#4 Tackling misinformation and fake news

Misinformation was a feature of both the US Election and EU Referendum last year.

It’s already an area of scrutiny by the UK government and is likely to test search and social media platforms.

Howard Rheingold has published a Google document of so-called crap detection resources to check the accuracy of information. UK resources need to be added.

#5 Open source projects

Numerous open source projects are already underway on behalf of different activist groups.

Gina Miller who legally challenged the government’s authority to implement Brexit has raised more than £200,000. She is leading a campaign to encourage people to vote tactically against a hard Brexit.

Activist Becky Snowden has created a Google document that shows how to vote tactically to challenge the Conservative party. It has already spawned a web app.

Newspeak House’s Edward Saperia has curated a list of more than 30 resources, datasets and projects. There’s something for everyone.

#6 Getting the vote out

Finally encouraging people to register to vote and then vote is critical, especially the younger generation. You can register at gov.uk using your National Insurance number.

College students will be sitting exams and university students will be away from home. Postal voting will be critical to mobilising this community.

These are all good places for communicators to apply their expertise.

Taking personal action will help counter the feelings of apathy and helplessness that I’ve seen in my social media feeds this week. You’ll also develop a load of new skills.

You need to participate. Doing nothing isn’t an option.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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