The May 6 elections in the United Kingdom, which ended with a coalition government and a Conservative Party prime minister, received modest attention in the mainstream U.S. media. However, on social media, where geographic boundaries vanish, the blogosphere was consumed with the formation of the new British government.
For the week of May 10-14, fully 61% of the news links on blogs were about the British election according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That was more than ten times the attention to the week’s next largest subject and equaled the highest level of interest that any single topic has generated so far in 2010. (During the week of March 22-26-following the House’s passage of health care reform-that subject also made up 61%.)
That stands in stark contrast to the mainstream press, which devoted only 2% of its newshole to the British election the week of May 10-16, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index.
The online discussion, mostly by British bloggers, did not take an overwhelmingly ideological tack, although there seemed to be general relief that beleaguered Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was no longer in power. In the aftermath of an election in which no single party got a ruling majority, it largely focused on the details for the somewhat unlikely alliance between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives that installed Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.
Last week also demonstrated the influence that a single news source can have in the blogosphere. The eight most linked-to stories on the election all came from one British source, the BBC.
The second largest story on blogs, at 6%, was the nomination of Elena Kagan to be the next Supreme Court Justice. Bloggers were split as to whether Kagan would make a good justice, but not necessarily along ideological lines. Some liberals thought Obama had nominated an inexperienced person who was too moderate while some conservatives thought that Kagan would be the most "acceptable" candidate Obama would propose.
Story No. 3, at 4%, was another BBC report, this one claiming that the U.S. airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan contained a second holding facility for detainees beyond its main building, and that prisoners were subjected to abuse there.
That was followed by a story (also at 4%) about scientists at the University of North Carolina who believe that a blast of ultrasound waves might work as a male contraceptive, stopping sperm production for up to six months. And an obituary for singer and civil rights activist Lena Horne was fifth at 3%.
On the video sharing site YouTube, the top two videos involved events that recently made news. The first was a controversial police drug raid in Columbia, Missouri. The second was an ad by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer criticizing President Obama for not doing enough to combat illegal immigration.
On Twitter, the week was once again dominated by tech-focused stories, reinforcing the platform’s frequent role of disseminating information about new technologies and the controversies they sometimes engender. However, for the first time in four weeks, the top subject was something other than Apple. This week, the top subject was Twitter itself, at 22% of the news links.
The majority of attention to Twitter revolved around a CNET report that Twitter had acknowledged a bug, originally discovered by the Turkish blog Webrazzi, which could force one Twitter user to follow another.
Apple was not far behind though, as it finished second at 13%. Most of the focus was on stories about how restrictive the company has been in the development of their products. One of the main stories drawing attention was a report that Adobe is trying to bring imaging software to Apple’s iPad, but is frustrated with the level of design control Apple has over its products. Another involved news that restrictions Apple placed on its iPhone software developer kit led an independent programmer to cancel an upcoming conference devoted to programming Mac products.
A TechCrunch story that Google may be moving into the gaming business was third at 11%. That was followed by news of the unveiling of AOL’s new homepage at 8%, and a report that mobile marketing firm Adenyo purchased MoVoxx, a mobile advertising company that reaches millions of users via smartphones, at 7%.
Early in the week, while the negotiations were ongoing between the conservative Tories and the other two major parties (the Liberal Democrats and Labour) about who would form a governing coalition, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced he would step down as leader of the Labour Party.
Most bloggers celebrated the announcement.
"It’s a great day indeed!!" cheered Christian Briddon. "No more Brown as PM. This news has made a rubbish day great. :-)"
Others speculated about the outcome of the negotiations.
"Now that Brown’s promised to step down, it’s looking increasingly plausible that our next government will be a centre-left coalition of some kind," predicted Owen at the Third Estate. "The Tories tried and failed to get majority support, so they should stop whinging and get used to the fact that nearly two thirds of the country made it very clear that we don’t want them in office."
"Amazing… so Brown is stepping down as Labour leader, and formal talks are in progress between Labour and the Lib Dems for the ‘traffic light coalition,’" noted Giroscope. "If this works out, Brown’ll go down in history as the man who facilitated the transformation of UK politics… by performing just badly enough to produce a hung parliament in the election."
On May 12, the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition with the Tories, paving the way for Conservative leader David Cameron to officially become the new Prime Minister. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg would then become Deputy Prime Minister.
The seemingly odd pairing of parties with vastly different platforms led to a wide range of predictions.
"A week ago I would not have considered a LibDem coalition as a viable or moral alternative, but now we have it, I hope, I really hope, it works," wrote Ray Poynter. "If it goes wrong then the electorate are mostly to blame–for once they have got exactly what they voted for, and close behind them those parts of the Labour party…who refused create a progressive alliance."*
"Well done David Cameron; you’ve won the job, but now the REAL work starts!" insisted Keeping Stock. "There are indeed tough times ahead for Cameron and his government, and undoing the damage done by 13 years of a Labour government will take time. Today’s developments though are the first step in the right direction."
After the BBC published the entire text of the agreement between the two parties, many bloggers focused on specific policy goals.
"Most of the document represented a mix of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies outlined in their manifesto," summarized Alexander Baker. "Some of those–like immigration caps–are patently daft. Others are a true blend of Con-Lib policy positions–tax policy, for example."
A number of bloggers were pleased to see the document address the issue of human and civil rights.
"The LibDem-Conservative coalition is probably the closest to Ideal outcome for civil liberties," suggested William Heath at Ideal Government. "There’s some more to add, but it’s a very promising start."
"Part 10 [of the agreement] is the sweetest thing to read," applauded Benjamin Dennehy. "For 13 years the socialist Labour Party has eroded basic freedoms. Part 10 seeks to reverse this. PRAISE THE LORD."
Others were not so optimistic.
"Basically, the Lib Dems have just rolled over and given up much of what they fought the election on and the Tories have given them a few minor concessions and five seats in the cabinet, including the meaningless post of ‘deputy PM’ for Clegg," lamented Carole Bristol.
Following Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to be the next justice on the Supreme Court, many bloggers admitted that they did not know much about her. Some, though, did express support.
"I think Kagan would be an excellent Supreme Court justice, and I hope she’s confirmed (barring the discovery of any hefty skeletons)," decided Tom Carter at Opinion Forum. "This would also be a good opportunity for Republicans in the Senate to join Democrats in confirming her, if only to illustrate that they’re capable of bipartisanship now and then."
However, some of the harshest opposition to Kagan came from liberals who thought that Obama had chosen a moderate rather than a strong liberal.
Glenn Greenwald, writing at Salon, listed a number of reasons he opposed Kagan and criticized liberals likely to support her just because she was Obama’s choice.
"Democrats love to mock the Right for their propensity to engage in party-line, close-minded adherence to their Leaders," Greenwald wrote, "but compare what conservatives did with Bush’s selection of Harriet Miers to what progressives are almost certain to do with Obama’s selection of someone who is, at best, an absolute blank slate."
"This is exactly why Democrats keep getting rolled by even the most grossly incompetent republicans in the history of the republic: because they settle for anything that’s not radically reactionary, while repugs refuse to accept anything but the radically reactionary," complained Yellow Dog at Blue in the Bluegrass.
"Not looking good Obama, I was hoping for much better," added Forward Our Motto.
Conservatives were somewhat split on how to respond. Some found her mildly acceptable.
"I don’t know very much about Elena Kagan other than that a couple of Harvard folks for whom I have a lot of respect think highly of her," wrote Stephen M. Bainbridge. "When I look at some of the lefties who are opposing her and their reasons for doing so, however, I’m tempted to conclude that she’s the most acceptable-from my perspective-candidate Obama is likely to put forward for the SCOTUS. You can tell a lot about a person from who their enemies are."
Others, however, opposed her outright.
"The only conclusion I can come to……this is another person that D’Bama wants to put in a position of power that is totally unqualified," decried An Ol’ Broad’s Ramblings. "Not extremely surprising."
The most viewed news video on YouTube last week was of a police raid in Columbia, Missouri, and was viewed 1.2 million times. The four-and-a-half minute video starts as police enter a suspect’s house to make an arrest for drug charges. After the raid, in which the police shot two dogs, there were concerns about whether they had used excessive force. The city’s police chief later announced that there would be changes in the rules law enforcement follow during future raids. (The link to the video is