No 219 Posted by fw, July 14, 2011
“Twenty years ago, it was newspapers calling the tune—closing down companies and drumming politicians out of office. Now papers are unable to style themselves “the voice of the people” because if “the people” want to get heard, they go online—in the case of the phone-hacking scandal, hitting News of the World where it hurt: on the bottom line.”
The above excerpt is from How Angry Moms Toppled the ‘World’, by Bill Coles, in The Daily Beast, July 10, 2011. Coles’ piece recounts how an influential British parenting website Mumsnet.com was instrumental in bringing down the News of the World by using a clever Internet-based, grassroots campaign.
Coles points out that although it was a series of relentless damaging exposés by The Guardian that did most of the damage to Murdoch’s UK flagship paper —
“. . . it was a group of articulate and dynamic mothers, members of the influential British site, who seized on the public outrage following revelations that people affiliated with News of the World had hacked into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl named Milly Dowler.”
With public indignation aroused by the Dowler story, Mumsnet, with 1.6 million unique visitors a month, went for the jugular — the advertisers — shaming them into cutting their ties to News of the World. Justine Roberts, cofounder of Mumsnet, told The Daily Beast:
“The hacking story had been rumbling along for a while and people hadn’t really engaged with it. On the whole it hadn’t really caught people’s interests, particularly because it was seen to be one media group against another. But the Milly Dowler episode put it into huge contrast. People were sickened. On Mumsnet, we have a number of parents who had suffered the loss of a child, and their stories put it all into stark relief. That lit the touch-paper.”
Mumsnet published a list of News of the World’s advertising clients, complete with email addresses. Visitors to the mom’s website were encouraged to contact advertisers directly asking companies to reconsider advertising with a paper “given that we now know they hacked Milly Dowler’s phone?”
“Within hours the campaign went viral, with Mumsnet tweets being retweeted by the thousands, sending the [News of the World] #notw hashtag to the top of the U.K.’s trending topics. Advertisers . . . were not slow in responding. The Ford Motor Company was among the first to pull its advertising, but other blue-chip companies soon followed, including the Lloyds Banking Group, Virgin Holidays, Coca-Cola, Vauxhall, and Renault, with some companies publishing unusually strongly worded statements of revulsion over what seemed to have been a regular practice at the paper. (Coca-Cola, for example, was “shocked.”)
Advantage of online social networking
“The power of Mumsnet—and all big social-media groups—is that they allow people to collect and organize easily,” Roberts said. “People who care about something can easily start a thread on Mumsnet, [and] do it from the comfort of their own homes, on their laptop. They don’t have to attend rallies, they don’t have to go anywhere.”
Coles concludes his story with tribute to the “angry moms”:
And, yes, The Guardian deserves credit for relentlessly reporting on the story. But the angry mothers were pretty formidable, too.