Tracking the Impact of a Voice in the Wilderness
“You’re the voice, crying out in the wilderness.”
Pump Up the Volume, 1990
Pump Up the Volume is one of my favourite films of all time. I saw it in the theatre in 1990 when I was 13 years old and have watched it countless times in the years since. I still love it now as much as I did the first time I saw it in the theatre 22 years ago. In it, Christian Slater plays a high school student with a secret alter-ego as an underground radio DJ. He hijacks the airwaves using a voice disguiser and pseudonym to expose the quiet desperation of life at his suburban Arizona high school, as well as the angst, anxiety, bullying, and discrimination faced on a daily basis by he and his peers at the hands of teachers, administrators, and each other. When he first begins, he assumes he is talking to no one, but the popularity of his show spreads quickly. It becomes clear that his message and his ideas are resonating with fellow students as he begins to see them reflected in the words and actions of those around him. Before long, the authorities regard his message of truth and speaking out about vital, but often controversial and uncomfortable, subjects as dangerous. They eventually arrest him and shut him down, only to have the end of the film reveal that a dozen more just like him have sprung up in his place.
Seeing this film was the first time I truly considered the idea of the power of one voice as a means to create an impact in public consciousness, to start a conversation about important things, things that affect all of us as human beings living in a society — whether that society is a small, insular one such as the community at a suburban high school, or that society is large, like an entire city, province, or country. The film was made before the Internet boom, but if it were retold and updated for a new generation, the “Hard Harry” radio persona of the film would most certainly have been @HardHarry on Twitter who posts on his blog at HardHarry.com. Another of my favourite quotes from the film (and there are many): “The truth is a virus.” Not coincidentally, this is what we say about social media content and conversation: it’s viral.
So what does all this have to do with KikkiPlanet.com? Allow me to elaborate.
In 2010, the Wild Rose Party released its Member-Approved Principles and Policies, which stated:
“A Wildrose Government will implement legislation protecting the ‘conscience rights’ of healthcare professionals.”
The revised 2011 version of the Member-Approved Principles and Policies reads:
“Wildrose members believe the Government of Alberta should implement legislation protecting the ‘conscience rights’ of healthcare professionals.”
A quick google.ca search for “conscience rights wild rose party” reveals that the party’s stance on conscience rights has been on the public record in their Policies and Principles documents for over 18 months. Later, in the fall of 2011, Wild Rose leader and Premier hopeful Danielle Smith responded to a questionnaire issued by the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, expanding her party’s support of conscience rights to marriage commissioners as well as health professionals, during which she stated that she was:
… sticking by a party members’ wish to “ensure conscience rights for marriage commissioners and health professionals.”
The same google.ca search reveals that FFWD Weekly, an alternative Calgary urban weekly newspaper similar to Vue Weekly here in Edmonton, reported on the story in a piece by Trevor Scott Howell called ‘Conscience rights’ need protection: Wildrose leader, which was initially published on September 1, 2011, six months ago.
So, to review: in the 18 to 20 months between when the Wild Rose Party issued its first statement of Member-Approved Principles and Policies in 2010 and Spring 2012, there had been exactly one story about conscience rights published in the Alberta news media, and that was by an alternative weekly newspaper, not a mainstream daily. This article generated 31 comments from readers of FFWD‘s website since that time, a big chunk of which involve two commenters engaged in a flame war insulting each other’s intelligence, and the last of which was from a site admin telling them to knock it off. That was in October. While conscience rights is not as high-profile an issue here as it has been south of the 49th Parallel in recent years, I find it curious that there appears to have been almost no interest in the issue or the story — that is, until very recently, when it literally exploded overnight.
So why now, six months after FFWD first published their piece on the WRP and conscience rights, is the issue suddenly a hot topic? Well, two things happened. First was that Premier Alison Redford called a provincial election, so with all the parties actively campaigning to form government, it stands to reason that the policies of all parties are under intensified scrutiny and that the overall amount of public conversation surrounding provincial politics has increased. The second thing was that KikkiPlanet wrote an article for this site called Pruned Bush: Confessions of a Wilted Wild Rose.
The FFWD article came to Kikki’s attention only recently, and she published the aforementioned piece as a response to the Wild Rose Party’s stance on conscience rights, publicly renouncing her support for the party and citing this specific policy as the reason. Less than two days after Pruned Bush went online, local blogger Dave Cournoyer (who runs Daveberta, a blog focused on provincial politics) published a piece called Thorny candidates could be the Wildrose Party’s biggest liability, a closer examination of some of the Wild Rose Party’s more high-profile candidates. In this piece, Dave links Kikki’s article, noting her as a former WRP supporter who was angered by the party’s stance on legislating conscience rights. In the comments section of Dave’s piece, one remark in particular struck me:
I see a new poll has the Wildrose up 13 points over the PCs (apparently despite the loss of one supporter over Danielle Smith’s recognition of the existence of s. 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms).
This got me thinking … exactly how much impact can one voice, or the very vocal and public loss of one supporter, through the platform of social media actually have during a major political campaign? Kikki Planet has close to 5,300 followers on Twitter and about 560 friends on Facebook. Herbert’s comment seems to imply that a loss of support from one voter is lacking enough in potential impact to be insignificant. So I decided to run the numbers, post the links, and you all can judge for yourselves. I believe this case study proves that one voice and one person’s opinion disseminated through social media does have the power to impact the public conversation, because regardless of whether or not you agree with the content of Kikki Planet’s Pruned Bush piece, it is undeniable that her voice and her ideas have brought the issue of conscience rights from the backroom to the forefront of the public consciousness surrounding this election.
Since Pruned Bush went up on Monday, April 2 at 8:12 pm local time (about 45 hours ago as of this writing), it has generated 10,068 actions from 6,249 unique visitors who spent a combined total of 28 days and 19 hours of their time on her website between when the article was first posted and the time of this writing. In two days, it generated 93 comments on the article itself here on the site, an additional 39 on the Calgary What’s Hot Reddit page, where the article ranks as the #12 hottest topic, as well as a handful on several other blogs which linked to and commented on the piece. 2,272 links to the piece came in from Facebook, which recorded 825 “likes” of the article. A link to the article has been tweeted 272 times. As we all know, this translates to expanding Kikki’s Twitter audience of 5,300 followers to thousands and thousands more as it shows up in the timelines of the followers of everyone who has tweeted about it. All forms of social media have generated almost 2,500 hits to Kikki’s website in the last 45 hours. Links to the article from other websites has generated a further 875 hits.
Since Kikki posted her article, several other Edmonton and Calgary bloggers addressed the subject of conscience rights. And suddenly, after an 18 month silence where no one in the mainstream news media seemed to know (much less care) about the WRP’s stance on conscience rights, they’ve picked up the story. And it looks like the issue might be gaining steam in the weeks leading up to the election, as even more public discourse is sure to ensue now that the story is front page news. The following articles were published and syndicated by major news media in the last 24 hours:
- Wildrose would set up special court to resolve conscience rights complaints (Global Edmonton)
- Smith deflects questions on ‘conscience rights’ (Edmonton Journal – Kikki is quoted)
- Alberta Tories label Wildrose position on conscience rights ‘frightening’ (The Globe and Mail)
- ‘Conscience Rights’ a point of contention in campaign (CTV Calgary)
I expect this is only the tip of the iceberg, as other media outlets rush to get their own piece of the story.
It remains to be seen if the WRP’s stance on conscience rights will affect the results at the polls on election day due to the publicity generated by one editorial piece written on a personal website by a self-confessed stay-at-home mom who initially built her social media base on funny tweets about vodka and vibrators. It remains to be seen whether, for all the brouhaha and debate on the Interwebz over the last two days amongst the social media community, anyone will change their mind about how they’re going to vote based on this issue. But one thing is clear: a single voice crying out in the wilderness does have the power to change the conversation.
Updated (4/10/2012 @ 3:10 pm)
- Conscience rights ignite online debate (FFWD Weekly)
- Wildrose too vague on ‘conscience rights’ (Edmonton Journal)
- ‘Conscience rights’ discussion puts Wildrose’s Smith on hot seat [with video] (Calgary Herald)
- ‘Conscience rights’ questions dog Wildrose leader (CBC News)
- Alberta Conscience Rights (ChrisLaBossiere.com)
- Albertans deserve a straight answer: Where does Danielle Smith stand on ‘conscience rights’? (rabble.ca)
- Alberta Votes: Wildrose position on conscience rights is solid (WernerPatels.com)
- Albertans should worry that Redford says she’s ‘frightened’ (Calgary Herald)
- Conscience Rights in a Free Society (Straight Outta Edmonton)
- Wildrose touts courts for conscience cases (Metro News)
- Conscience rights, KikkiPlanet, and Smith v Smith (Paula Simons, Edmonton Journal)
- Conscience rights issue continues to dog Alberta election (The Globe and Mail)
- ‘Liberal’ fear mongering didn’t hurt Harper, won’t hurt Wildrose, Smith says (Calgary Herald)
- Wildrose wants American-style health care, NDP says (Edmonton Journal)
- ‘Conscience rights’ battle heats up in Alberta election (Edmonton Journal)
- Wildrose and abortion referendum (FFWD Weekly)
- PCs left with bogeywoman politics to smite Smith (Calgary Herald)
- CBC News – Edmonton: April 5 (Skip to 10:26 – CBC News Edmonton)
- Political conscience (Global Edmonton News Hour)
- Wildrose Party clarifies abortion position (CBC News)
- Smith denies abortion agenda (Edmonton Journal)
- Opposition piles on in bid to slow Wildrose (The Globe and Mail)
- Tories vs. Wildrose: Campaign erupts into war of words (Calgary Herald)
- Falling under the spell of the cult of Dani (Calgary Herald)
- Wildrose Party’s idea of “conscience rights” is discriminatory (The Globe and Mail)
- Smith’s learning to adjust (Edmonton Journal)
- Critics of referendums frightening (Calgary Herald)
- Conscience rights is a policy of discrimination (Calgary Herald)