8 Jul 2011

Phone hacking exposed but was it Twitter wot won it?

As Downing Street, the Met police and News International reel from the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, Channel 4 News asks if people power helped “keep the story alive”.

Phone hacking exposed but was it Twitter wot won it?

The phone-hacking crisis has swamped Government, the Met Police and the UK media, but many are questioning why it took so long for the News of the World scandal to truly hit the headlines.

Critics claim rival tabloids chose to avoid an issue which is uncomfortably close to home. So did people-power on sites like Twitter help keep the story alive?

Sunny Hundal, from the Liberal Conspiracy blog, says constant “crowd pressure” via social media played a key role.

He told Channel 4 News: “I think Twitter has helped keep the story alive through a drip-drip of information, commentary and tid-bits of news.

“Though that would have died out if it wasn’t for investigative reporting by the likes of the Guardian, Indy, Channel 4 and New York Times.”

Liberal Conspiracy used Twitter to coordinate a campaign urging major firms to pull advertising from the News of the World, as allegations emerged about former reporters targeting murder victims and war widows. The parenting website Mumsnet has also been credited with applying crucial pressure which caused advertisers to develop extremely cold feet.

One advertiser told me his email inbox had been ‘assaulted’ by readers. Sunny Hundal

Mr Hundal said: “Twitter was immensely useful in our campaign to target advertisers. We built tools so people could tweet messages at companies with just one click. It helped spread the word of an organised boycott campaign.”

Twitter users shared lists of firms and email addresses of CEOs to apply the power of the crowd on companies.

“One advertiser told me his email inbox had been ‘assaulted’ by readers,” Hundal added.

Estimates show the social media chatter around the News of the World scandal far exceeded the excitement surrounding super-injunctions earlier this year.

More from Channel 4 News: News of the World advert boycott

And over the last two years notable figures, including former deputy prime minister John Prescott, who says he was hacked, and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, have relentlessly kept up the pressure. When allegations of “systematic corruption” – inside News International and the Met Police – failed to get coverage on the news stand, they were always buzzing around Twitter.

The newspaper is the news

As Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor, stood down as David Cameron‘s communications chief earlier this year he said: “When the spokesman needs a spokesman it is time to move on.”

This weekend the newspaper is the news. The News of the World has published its final edition.

News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks told staff on Friday that the paper’s brand had become “toxic”, leading bosses to axe it after 168 years.

But there are reports a Sunday edition of The Sun, NoW’s sister paper, is now in the pipeline. Could this trigger a fresh wave of boycotts and protest?

“It’s hard to tell where the story will go from here to be honest, though it’s likely to be either a boycott aimed at the Sun or focusing on blocking the BSkyB deal, ” says Hundal.

“Social media campaigns usually rely on national news to build momentum rather than working in a vacuum, so we’re dependent on where the news agenda goes from here too…”

More from Channel 4 News: BSkyB takeover - delay expected as opposition grows