ABC campaigner Emily Yates spoke to the rail journalist Tom Ingall as part of an in-depth, 8 page feature in this month’s edition of Rail Review. We include a download link for the full PDF below, with thanks to Tom Ingall, Rail Review and Bauer Media.
The importance of social media in a David vs Goliath battle
With the unprecedented anger caused by the ongoing Southern Rail crisis, this is not the first time that members of ABC have been made aware that our campaign has caused a serious stir behind the scenes of rail industry (and Department for Transport) public relations.
It now appears that our campaign forms part of what is very much a ‘live discussion’ behind the scenes of the rail industry. In this month’s Rail Review, Tom Ingall takes a comprehensive look at the situation and asks what rail public relations can learn from our campaign.
Read in the context of our recent court decision (which forces Chris Grayling to finally act on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches), it is important to note that social media has also played a key part in the crowd-funding and crowd-sourced research behind our legal case. The fact that we are the one body to achieve what MPs and even the Transport Select Committee could not (a decision on force majeure) means there is no more room for anyone in the rail industry to diminish the seriousness of our campaign simply because of the social media techniques we use. These techniques are in fact the only resources available to volunteer campaigners who are defending themselves against an utter encroachment into their family lives, businesses and livelihoods.
With the precedent-setting decision on ABC’s “standing” in our court case last month, the way is now clear for other campaigns to set up along the lines of the legal crowd-funding model we have used; which means there really is a last resort for action when all other means of representation fail us.
What does the article have to say about ABC?
Tom Ingall’s opening statement is exactly the realisation that inspired the creation of ABC – our decision to focus on crowd-sourced research, cross-platform publishing and investigative ‘citizen journalism’:
“Anyone with a smartphone in their pocket has the tools to be a multimedia journalist. More importantly, they also have the power of a publisher.”
ABC has been working in this way since May 2016 – taking great inspiration from David Boyle, who back in June 2016 wrote an entire ebook on the Southern Rail crisis in the space of a week! If you haven’t read it, we strongly recommend downloading ‘Cancelled: The strange, disturbing story of the crisis at Southern Rail’ here.
David Boyle called for ‘proper investigative journalism’ on Southern Rail at the time – and we took him very seriously; beginning a year long experiment on a crowd-sourced version of ‘proper investigative journalism’ that would empower commuters when all other channels of representation failed us.
As Tom Ingall notes in the article, ABC has excelled in the “nimble use of platforms”, including: viral Twitter hashtags; our ABC Facebook group (which has brought people together to organise, support each other and share research); Periscope (live broadcasts of our protests, which have allowed those unable to attend events to fully engage); and Thunderclaps (an instant viral strategy that helped us reach over a quarter of a million people at the time of our December protest at the DfT). Tom also features the results of our ABC Passenger Survey prominently in the article, which highlight the staggering effect on lives and livelihoods caused by the ongoing Southern Rail crisis.
Campaign for Better Transport’s Stephen Joseph OBE comments on ABC’s innovative crowd-sourced model:
We were delighted to read a response from Stephen Joseph OBE at the end of the article, where he highlights a few points from which to take Tom Ingall’s excellent analysis forward. Stephen calls for a truly progressive view of the possibilities of properly including passengers in the discussion. He praises the work of ABC’s network in discovering weaknesses within the current system – in particular the work of Danny Jeremiah in proposing a solution to fix the user experience of ticket machines and ensure that we can easily access the cheapest fares.
Stephen Joseph has been an advocate of our methods since 2016, when he predicted that “rail operators will have to deal in future with a new type of passenger lobby group organised by young professionals who are adept at using social media”.
We are honoured to include several long-standing passenger and disability rights campaigns in our network, including Campaign for Better Transport, the Foundation for Integrated Transport, Fair Fares Now, Transport for All and Bring Back British Rail; as well as dozens of regional commuter groups across London and the South.
Please help us to continue our work!
The entire strength of our campaign relies on keeping it independently funded, and we desperately need your help. Donating to help us pay our lawyers for our recent high court victory will also allow us to continue bringing you the best coverage and analysis of what’s really going on behind the scenes of Southern Rail; including many more exclusive publications!
Within the last month alone, we have leaked information from the Gibb report, as well as the complete version of a buried Rail Delivery Group report arguing for Conductors to remain on trains. Both reports were officially published within the same week as each of our leaks; and our recent high court decision has now forced Chris Grayling to decide on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches by 13th July.
From the point of view of ABC’s dedicated campaigners, we are only just getting started. We are determined to focus all our efforts on campaigning for truth, justice and compensation for all commuters as our volunteer organisation spreads around the country.