On Thursday voters in ten cities will decide whether or not to have an elected mayor. These decisions could have a major impact on the future of these cities and their residents, so why is hardly anyone talking about it?
Strict government rules mean that official information is limited, providing a huge opportunity for citizen power to use social media platforms to persuade us to vote one way or another. So where is everyone?
I live in Sheffield, one of the cities involved, and work in another, Wakefield. I know about the issue both because I need to on a professional level and I want to on a personal basis. I am open to persuasion from the yes and no campaigns, but in Sheffield neither of you seem that bothered to engage with me, or anyone else for that matter.
This campaign is ripe for social media to live up to the hype and use its powers of conversation to persuade me to make an informed choice, but the noise levels are minimal at most.
With the exception of a short leaflet from my local Council which spells out the referendum question, and provides only basic information about the differences between the mayoral and leader models, I have received no information at all from either campaign. In other cities some residents, but not all, have received leaflets from one or both campaigns, and debates have also taken or are taking place.
But what about new media? When I look online, I find only a patchwork of websites and sparsely followed Facebook pages across the ten cities, each of varying quality. The arguments for and against are both spurious and predictable, and when I stop reading I am still lacking information about the positive benefits of each system.
There is a lot of attention given to the disadvantages of one system or another, much of which is of limited accuracy. I know this because it’s my area of work, but most voters won’t.
There is a mostly polite muttering among the Twitterati, but this resembles a stilted conversation rather than a raging debate. So why is this? In these times of austerity why aren’t the campaigners mobilising and taking advantage of the low-cost social media platforms, filling the void left by traditional media to try and get our votes.
Do we not care about how our cities are governed, and does the general disillusionment with politics mean that there should be three options – yes, no, and don’t care?
Social media has helped to change things elsewhere. As a conversational and communications medium it needs to play a role in things that matter. More than 14 million people follow Kim Kardashian on Twitter, which is depressing on so many levels, and yet we are only just paying lip service to how our cities should be governed, something which will affect millions of people.
I could be wrong, I may have been looking in the wrong places, but the social media efforts of the yes and no campaigners have so far been pitiful. You have five days left to convince me and others, we’re prepared to listen. But if you have something to say, you need to speak above a whisper.