Recent widespread outraged reaction over Paul Henry’s gratuitously insulting language on the Breakfast Show is an indication of the role social media is playing in establishing strong national disability networks. The response from across disability groups also shows that the silos between different impairment types are beginning to break down, which can only be a good thing.
Paul Henry, and perhaps also TVNZ clearly had no grasp of the effect that so many disabled people and their supporters being connected online would have. Facebook was running hot and hectic, with pages I thought too extreme to join. Feathers were ruffled on Twitter, even among people who had no connection with disability. Various blogs of excellent quality debated the issues raised.
Because organisations like the Human Rights Commission and Broadcasting Standards Authority have online complaint forms, making complaints has become easier, with guidance on the way to frame them being readily available. Henry thought that IHC had it in for him, but it wasn’t just IHC. A whole range of disabled people and organisations took up the cause of a popular figure and a group of people who have little access to the media to fight back.
This is not the first time such campaigns have been conducted. Back in the nineties, before social media were invented, an international sports-shoe maker created an advertisement extremely insulting and offensive to disabled people. Within a very short time international networks had distributed the email addresses of advertising and other executives. This resulted in a flood of emails making it very clear that the shoe-buying dollar would be spent elsewhere. The advertisement was withdrawn and individual apologies emailed.
Establishing a new social action group on an issue previously hidden and not discussed has also benefited from social media and online connectedness,
This combination has meant the Disability Clothesline has been able to establish a national project quickly, and begin debating the issues of violence towards and abuse of disabled people in a way that would have been impossible even a few years ago before there was a critical mass of disabled people online
Such actions and campaigns can only become more sophisticated and organised. Watch this space.