Rumours barely began circulating about Rod Liddle’s potential appointment as editor of the Independent when a vocal Facebook group was started, denouncing Liddle as not only a polarising and controversial figure, but one to which various sexist, homophobic and racial remarks could be attributed.
With some strong research, the group dug up some of Liddle’s most distasteful remarks and made an effective argument for why he would be an inappropriate editor not only for a left-leaning paper like the indie, but arguably for any paper at all. A week later, Liddle’s chances of becoming editor appear to lie in tatters, with MPs Paul Flynn and Diane Abbott apparently planning to table “a sulphuric early day motion on the Commons order paper denouncing Rod”.
But how much influence can the Facebook group, which precipitated this wave of anti-Liddle media attention, be credited with? A lot it seems.
While most of the damage to Liddle’s reputation came at the hands of the Mail, who scooped the story that Liddle had been posting inflammatory remarks under a pseudonym on Millwall Football Club’s forum, the Facebook group was instrumental in showing that strong public opposition to Liddle being made editor existed. With some 3,000 people joining the group within 3 days, there was no need for journalists to ask whether the opposition was large enough to be newsworthy: the numbers made that clear. If that wasn’t enough, the group’s creator, Alex Higgins collated some of Liddle’s most offensive remarks and urged others within the group to do the same, thereby aiding the work of journalists who otherwise may not have had time to do so themselves. All of this led to a news story that was effectively prepackaged for journalists. Reader interest: check. Sense of context and proof of potentially libelous allegations: check. Quotes that reinforce the story: check.
From there, the Mail dug deeper, and since revealing the extent of Liddle’s incendiary diatribes, the story became big enough to championed by those in positions of power.
While the influence of social media sites in shaping the news agenda may not be new, the Rod Liddle Facebook group offers further proof that mobilised voices can be used to effect change, often by doing some of the leg work for journalists.