Insights from See Through News, in the form of a Screenplay
A See Through News Facebook Case Study in effective climate action, in Three Acts
Act 1: The Local Council Workers
SCENE: interior, white van front seats, dusk.
MIKE and DENISE, workers in their 30s, dressed in Wiltshire Council fleeces and hi-vis jackets, climb into the van cabin.
They heave heavy sighs, exchange knowing glances, shake their heads and exhale.
MIKE starts driving, slowly.
We catch glimpses of a public park in the windows. When we start seeing a residential road in the background, they speed up.
DENISE: Just wouldn’t let it go, would he?
MIKE: Why are we expected to put up with this shit every day? We should get ‘abuse compensation’. or something. Every single job, the same thing.
DENISE: (sing-song, imitating someone) ‘Oh, you’re from the Council, are you? About bloody time you lot showed up!’
MIKE: (joins in, also sing-song) ‘You took your sweet time didn’t you?’
DENISE: [bitterly] ‘Didn’t someone bung you enough to do the job, then?’
MIKE: (smiling now, relaxing a bit) ‘Or are you just so shit at your job you had to work out which end of the hammer to hold?’
DENISE (smiling now too) How about ‘Managed to get out of bed in time today, did we?’?
MIKE Or ‘Have you been throwing a sickie?’
MIKE and DENISE laugh briefly. Soon they look tired and solemn again.
MIKE: The weird thing is, young people seem more inclined to accept things being shit. Some of them even say thank you for repairing that handrail, or fixing the school roof, or restoring that path, or whatever..
DENISE: Yeah, funny that. It’s the older ones who give us all the abuse about being lazy, useless or bent. You’d imagine it would be the other way round. Why do you reckon that is?
MIKE: Search me. Maybe they remember what it used to be like before all the budget cuts, when there was enough money to keep on top of things. Old people are always comparing things with the old days..
DENISE: Could be. I was talking to a couple of the wrinklies in the office before the morning meeting today. Apparently there used to be [her work gloves exaggerate her finger quotes] ‘maintenance budgets’.
MIKE: Huh. I’ve heard the old boys go on about the good old days too. They say Facilities Management used to have three times as many staff. They said they used to get dispatched to repair things before they got really bad, instead of only when they broke.
DENISE: ‘A Stitch in Time Saves Nine’, that’s what that old lady said last week, when we were doing the old people’s home gate, wasn’t it? Just before she went off on one about ‘Austerity’, whatever that is.
MIKE: Yeah, right. [pause] What does that actually mean?
DENISE: What, ‘a stitch in time’ or ‘Austerity’?
Act 2: The Intervention
SCENE: interior, daytime, office with rows of desks, sparsely populated with people on the phone, or computers.
MIKE, still in his Council fleece and hi-vis jacket.
He alternately peers at a computer screen, and looks down to his fingers pecking at the keyboard. The phone rings.
MIKE winces, braces himself, then picks up the receiver.
MIKE: [wary, defensive, formal] Hello, Facilities Management…[indistinct reply]
Yes, speaking. How may I be of assistance?…
Yes…I know the one you mean – it’s the wooden foot bridge by the Leisure Centre, the one that leads to the field in front of the Fire Station…
MIKE slumps slightly, putting one hand to his forehead as he stares up at the ceiling.
That’s right. The Bridges Team did a routine inspection, and decided there was a Health & Safety risk. That’s why it’s closed…
Mike listens to indistinct caller on the other end of the phone.
Sorry, I can’t control what the do or don’t say on what notice they left. What they told me is that in their opinion the state of the bridge required a Structural Engineer to look at it, so that’s why they put up the notice…
MIKE listens further.
I know what you mean, it does look OK from the outside. But, well, they’re the experts, and they think there could be a bigger problem that’s not obvious to us…
MIKE sits up, stretches, puts one hand to the back of his head, looks around the office.
Well yes, as you say, they do know what they’re doing, and there is the insurance to consider…
When will it be repaired? You’re not the first person to ask that question. I can’t say for sure until we get the structural engineer’s report back…
How long? Hard to say exactly. We’ve only got a couple of engineers now to cover the whole county. They need to decide what’s priority on any given day, and that changes day to day.
MIKE relaxes a bit, leans forward on his desk, looks down and starts playing with a mug with his free hand.
What do I reckon with my experience? I’d say around 10 working days…This is a category three priority – we usually get them done in a couple of weeks.
Oh, once we get the report back, so long as it’s nothing major we should be able to patch it up the next day…
MIKE listens again.
No, I’ve got no objection. Go ahead and post that on Facebook.
Yes, no problem, I’ll email you when I have a progress update. What’s your email address? ‘Editor?…at?…See Through News dot org? Got it…
Yes, good to talk to you too, and glad I could help. I’ll be in touch when I know what’s happening…
Nice to talk to you too. Good bye.
MIKE hangs up, makes a note, raises his eyebrows, purses his lips, nods and looks around the office.
Act 3: The Sell
SCENE: Meeting room, daytime.
STERNWRITER stands at a lectern, an image on a screen beside him.
Three people sit at the meeting room table listening intently: WOMAN IN SUIT, MAN IN SUIT and MIKE, in his hi-vis jacket.
MIKE is addressing WOMAN IN SUIT and MAN IN SUIT.
MIKE: …and we’ve had noticeably less abuse, and a lot more thanks, for this footbridge job, which I’m guessing is to do with all the publicity about the repairs in the See Through Salisbury Facebook group.
MAN IN SUIT: How have the Facebook comments from the members of the public been different this time?
MIKE: They just seem a bit more sympathetic to the fact we’re so short-staffed, rather than bashing us. More talk about budget cuts. Less about us being lazy, useless or corrupt.
WOMAN IN SUIT: Makes a change. Wish we had some of that in Comms.
MIKE: If you’re OK with it, I’m thinking of alerting See Through Salisbury every job we have. Makes Denise and my life easier, people knowing what we’re doing and why. Apparently they’ve got other Facebook Groups around the county too – See Through Trowbridge…[MIKE looks at STERNWRITER].
STERNWRITER: …See Through Devizes, See Through Marlborough, See Through Chippenham, See Through Warminster, all including the surrounding villages. We’ve got the whole county covered.
MAN IN SUIT: Hang on, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Back to the footbridge. What did you actually do?
STERNWRITER: [points to new image on screen]
Here’s the Facebook post from the first time we alerted the public to the footbridge repairs in the See Through Salisbury Facebook Group, following my phone call with Mike on November 23rd.
This screen grab shows the ‘Post Reach’ data. This is only visible to the Group Administrator, which is why I’m sharing it with you now. A typical post to this group has a double digit reach. A really popular post may occasionally creep beyond three figures.
As you can see, Facebook’s estimated total number of Views for this post is 2.1K.
WOMAN IN SUIT: But you said your Facebook Group had around 350 members at the time.
STERNWRITER: That’s correct, yes.
WOMAN IN SUIT: So how come your post was seen by [pauses, briefly examines ceiling] six times that number?
STERNWRITER: That was just the initial post. After Mike emailed me his update a week later, saying he hoped to do the repair work on Dec 3rd, I passed this information on in this second post, dated Nov 30. Here’s the Analytics on that post. [STERNWRITER changes the image on the screen].
MAN IN SUIT: Blimey – 3,300 views? Nearly ten times the size of your group?
STERNWRITER: It gets better. Here are the Facebook Admin Insight stats from the third post on December 3rd. This is the one with the picture of the re-opened bridge, briefly stating the repairs were completed on time as MIKE said they would be, and the bridge is open again.
WOMAN IN SUIT: But that’s nearly 6,000 views!
MAN IN SUIT: So [briefly closes his eyes, mutters numbers] that a total of more than 11,000 views of these posts about repairing a footbridge in a city ward of 5,000, in a city of 38,000?
STERNWRITER: Yup. Of course, the data Facebook provides doesn’t tell us exactly who or where, but due to the hyper-local nature of the subject matter, it can only be of interest to actual regular users of the foot bridge. So it’s reasonable to assume the Facebook algorithm only showed it to local residents.
MAN IN SUIT addresses WOMAN IN SUIT: Lorraine, how many followers do we have on our Wiltshire Council Facebook Page?
WOMAN IN SUIT: 15,000.
MAN IN SUIT: That’s throughout the entire half million population of Wiltshire, right?
WOMAN IN SUIT: That’s right, yes.
MAN IN SUIT: I know there’s only you and Bridget left in the Comms team now, and you don’t have the time to put out Facebook posts for every minor repair job like this, but say we did have the manpower
WOMAN IN SUIT: Um…
MAN IN SUIT:… sorry, Lorraine, personpower, to get updates out to thousands of locally affected residents every time we had to close a bridge, road or some council facility. How would we do it?
WOMAN IN SUIT: Well, Facebook allows organic reach of 5% of each Page’s total followers, so we’d reach 750 people for free. They’d be randomly distributed around the county, though, not targeted in the affected area.
MAN IN SUIT: Hang on, what do you mean, ‘for free’?
WOMAN IN SUIT: I have explained this to you before. After the ‘free’ 5%, you need to pay Facebook to Boost your views. That’s how they make their money. But at least that way you can ask them to target local people.
MAN IN SUIT: OK, take this foot bridge example. Imagine we actually had a budget for Facebook Boosts – how much would it cost us to reach 10.5K people who live by this Salisbury foot bridge?
WOMAN IN SUIT: [tapping on smartphone] Give me a moment…Facebook charges around £10 per 1,500 extra views. We can’t really count our free 750, as they’d be all over the county. So very roughly that would have cost us around… £70.
MAN IN SUIT (addressing STERNWRITER): We’re very grateful you did it, but why did you spend £70 of your own money to alert the public about this footbridge repair?
STERNWRITER: I didn’t. It cost me nothing, beyond my time and effort.
MAN IN SUIT: How come?
WOMAN IN SUIT: Facebook only charges to Boost Pages. Views of Group posts are free.
MAN IN SUIT to WOMAN IN SUIT: Why doesn’t the Council use our Facebook Group then?
WOMAN IN SUIT: We don’t have one. We don’t even have the resources to run our Page, let alone start a Group too.
MAN IN SUIT to STERNWRITER: [as if he finally gets it] OK, I get the picture. So you’re touting for business for our PR work on local emergency repairs? Sorry to disappoint you, but the reason we don’t do it ourselves is because we don’t have any budget for it. So much as we appreciate your help on this foot bridge, we can’t pay outside contractors…
STERNWRITER: We’re aware of that. In fact, that’s exactly why we’re doing it for free.
MAN IN SUIT: Why would you want to do that?
STERNWRITER: We’re a non-profit with the Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active
MAN IN SUIT: I remain in the dark.
STERNWRITER: Drawing people’s attention to the consequences of underfunding and ignoring critical infrastructure at a local level is the first step to seeing the same principles applied globally.
MAN IN SUIT: What’s that got to do with global warming?
STERNWRITER: Establish the concept of ‘a stitch in time’, and we hope to help people join the dots themselves. We’re hoping they’ll apply the same logic to the Precautionary Principle, fossil fuels and Climate Change.
MAN IN SUIT: Not sure I entirely follow you, but that all sounds fine. What’s in it for you?
STERNWRITER: I refer you to my name card.
MAN IN SUIT and WOMAN IN SUIT pick up name cards from the table in front of them.
MIKE smirks knowingly.
MAN IN SUIT: ‘Gift Horse Distributor’. You mean you’re giving away stuff for free?
STERNWRITER: We get this a lot. Hence the name card.