Climate Camp – A Tale of Twitter Woe

A few days ago I watched the Climate Camp‘s action, An Edinburgh-wide coordinated protest aimed at the Royal Bank of Scotland’s continued funding of oil, coal Fossil Fuel exploration.

Depending on who you ask, this was farcical or successful: they did shut down RBS headquarters for the day, and they had a SIEGE TOWER…

…which, taken together, is inconclusive.  That rhino thing is pretty cool.  I don’t want to delve too deeply into the merits of the protest itself, though I consider myself (1) pro peaceful protest and (2) anti environmental degradation for profit; I want to talk about about how Climate Camp tried to use social media to broadcast their protest and garner support, and how they failed.

The Guardian Environment Blog has a good run-down of the shenanigans on the day of the protest, but I suggest you see for yourself on twitter.  Climate Camp’s online media outreach matched a plan I’m sure most people/organizations recognize as similar to theirs:

  1. Present their case, along with participation information and partner links on their website ahead of the event
  2. Use twitter to transmit information about their event & actions, for the benefit of participants and the largest audience in the world (the internet)
  3. Continue the conversation after the event with news, shared experiences from participants, and track mentions around the mainstream media and blogosphere.

Mistake #1: Scrambled Mission

Leading up to the Climate Camp, the organization’s website put up a post detailing why they chose to target RBS.  Climate Camp’s enumerated complaints and accusations against RBS are poorly written and lack much needed context and citations.  In the age of wikipedia, citations are, to most, a requirement.  I did verify many of the numbers they quote, however they didn’t provide that connection.  This just seems lazy. There’s a good case to be made here, and Climate Camp’s lack of well-presented facts and figures hurt their case and their cause.  Another major mistake, in the ‘battle’ for hearts and minds, was mishandling RBS’s PR stunt to ‘mediate’ the conflict.

Mistake #2: No Guidance in the Chaos

During the event, whoever had control of the Climate Camp twitter stream was posting photos and news about the protests.

climatecamp (climatecamp) on Twitter-2

The above is the most coherent string of tweets on the day of the Event.  What’s missing here are LINKS that give casual observers or event trackers context for why this woman is gluing herself to things and changing her name.  It’s because of a controversial bauxite mine and processing plant, which will destroy/invade the land of a Native Society (I hate the word ‘tribe) in India.  Perhaps this woman alone got the plan rejected, but I learned all of this without Climate Camp’s help.  Another example:

climatecamp (climatecamp) on Twitter-2
Biomass is bad? Really? Why? How is that connected to RBS & Climate Camp?  The Climate Camp team consistently missed opportunities to bring Social Media activity from their event back toward their message, and supporting facts for their cause.  Twitter is a fast, temporal medium. I’d guess that a message has a half-life of 5-15 minutes.  During an event, when there are hundreds or thousands of messages flying around, it’s imperative to reiterate the core message.  Facts were scarce, and the twitter hecklers came on strong.

Mistake #3: Retweets are endorsements

The easiest thing to do on the internet is make ad hominem jokes against something. Cheap jokes are easy, and good ones rarely fit in 140 characters. The Guardian story covered the best examples, but there’s no sense rewarding or dissecting keyboard comedians.  The error here was that Climate Camp freely used the ReTweet function to re-share comments from supporters and participants, many of which were just, well, silly.  This was especially true in the context of the hashtag flamewars.

climatecamp (climatecamp) on Twitter
or my personal favorite, possibly the worst retort to “get a job you hippie”:
climatecamp (climatecamp) on Twitter

Reasonable discussion is fine, but Climate Camp took the retweet feature too far during and after the event.  A retweet is an endorsement of the statement, and elevating flamewars, even when you’re trying to promote your ‘side’ of the argument, is again just a detour away from your core message. Don’t pour gasoline to a flame war.

Mistake #4: Not all Coverage is worth mentioning

After the day long event, the Climate Camp team watched the aftermath and media response to their activities.  I don’t think any reasonable person would expect the response to an event like this to be all positive, but they reacted with some salty rhetoric to neutral to negative coverage:

climatecamp (climatecamp) on Twitter

If we take my previous point of ‘Retweet = endorsement’, this one sure fits the bill:

climatecamp (climatecamp) on Twitter-1

At least they provided links. It confounds me why they didn’t provide links to positive coverage:

climatecamp (climatecamp) on Twitter
climatecamp (climatecamp) on Twitter

The tone of the output from the Climate Camp twitter feed after the event betrays their shock, for lack of a better word, that their nuisance bordering on violence protest did not earn them instant world change or international accolades.  It reads like sour grapes from a group that lost control of their own party, which is exactly what happened.