Rage Against The Machine

4. January 2010 – 18:55 by Dan Jellinek

While I’m waffling on, sorry engaging  in serious discussion, about significant e-democracy developments in 2009, there is something that happened in the UK just shortly before Christmas that  holds some significant messages for e-participation.

I don’t know whether anyone outside the UK will have heard anything about the story, and I’m not sure what it would mean if you had, but it relates to the race for the Christmas ‘number one’ slot in our pop music charts. For many years the media has taken a keen interest in what song becomes top of the charts at Christmas, partly no doubt because there is little else to write about in the holidays.

In recent years the trend for caring much about what song is number one at Christmas has colled off a little, with the death of the single due to music downloads, and in any case the race has been run for a few years by whoever won the national TV singing talent contest ‘The X-Factor’. This is a show created by a hugely wealthy and influential music impressario called Simon Cowell, and other adjectives are commonly applied to him.

This year a small group of ‘alternative’ music fans, led by part-time DJ Jon Morter, set out to buck the trend and ensure that it was not a bland ballad sung by the winner of this contest (’The Climb’, by Joe McElderry) that made it to number one. Picking a raw, explosive anti-capitalist song as their battle-cry (’Killing in the name’, by the perpetually incensed Rage against the Machine) they launched a Facebook campaign that ended up triggered 500,000 downloads of the song in one week alone, securing the Christmas Number 1 spot by 50,000 downloads. The campaign began on Facebook - I myself received the call through my Facebook network before I had heard anything about the campaign through the mainstream media.

Whatever one thinks about the merits of this campaign (haven’t number ones always been bland?), I think there is something interesting happening here. Even given that, as with most unregulated online campaigns, the size of the vote is likely to be produced by a small core of voters voting (or downloading) many times each; it is surely impressive that a small group of people, led by a single person, with a well-designed online campaign, have had a major impact on a national cultural event.

I think it means that, where a situation can actually be changed directly by online intervention (such as, in this case, buying a song), then a good online campaign can win out over traditional channels.

The unexpected nature of the campaign is interesting, as well - until a person or a small group had this idea, no-one would have even realised that an online campaign could change what song became number one at the most important time of year.

What else could online campaigning change? this could be the year it all gets more imaginative.


  1. One Response to “Rage Against The Machine”

  2. By Rolf Luehrs on Jan 13, 2010

    Very interesting case! And we hadn’t to wait very long until this phenomenon showed its political dimension. Currently the crowd tries to push Simon & Garfunkel’s „Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson” to the top. As we all know North Ireland’s first minister, Peter Robinson, is currently in trouble because of his wife’s affair with a teenager. The fact that Peter Robinson is a member of the ultra conservative DUP of the controversial preacher Ian Paisley added fuel to the fire: The facebook group “Here’s to you Mrs Robinson for number 1” counts almost 17.000 member.

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