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Will's Web Watch: Could Jamie Oliver change the world?

Popularity of online activism soars after a decent meal...
Written by Will Sturgeon, Contributor

Popularity of online activism soars after a decent meal...

The internet's ability to bring together people from all over the world with a common purpose has long been recognised as both a good and bad thing - often simultaneously.

If you're the Recording Industry Association of America then you're not best pleased about the worldwide network of file sharers swapping your artists' copyrighted materials on services such as Kazaa. If you just filled your iPod with free tunes then you're likely to be in slightly better spirits.

Recently we also saw the power of the internet as a force for good as sites across the world directed traffic and much-needed donations to organisations such as the Disasters Emergency Committee following the recent tsunami in South East Asia.

The internet has entirely revolutionised the old-fashioned high street tin-rattling, phone-giving, cheque-clearing fundraising of yesteryear and has done the same in terms of mobilising support behind particular issues.

Now an unlikely source is also drawing upon the power of the internet to grow awareness and mobilise support for a long-overlooked issue in the UK.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is imploring internet users to get behind his campaign to improve the quality of school dinners. It doesn't sound like much but the impact of a healthy diet on the development of a child is life-shaping and Oliver is now attempting to remove the sugars, fats and E-numbers from their schooling.

Hyperlinks have a wonderful ability to travel far faster than door-steppers collecting signatures with a clipboard.

In past years there may have been petitions at the school gates or a few well-meaning mums picking up the cause to little effect but now that the internet is involved - backed with a major TV programme and tireless promotion from Oliver - the virtual signatures are flying in.

I readily admit I've struggled to be complimentary about the ubiquitous mockney in the past and Oliver has been something of a hate-figure for many web users, more prone to derision than praise but now the web is at the heart of his own populist redemption. Though he would doubtless argue this is about 'the kids', it will do him no harm either.

The Feed Me Better website has already amassed 150,000 signatures which Oliver will present to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair later this week. (So sign up now if you haven't already.) Over the weekend the number of signatures increased by 50,000, suggesting the campaign is really gathering pace at 'internet speed' as 10 people tell 10 friends, who all tell 10 friends - you all know how it works.

Of course internet campaigning is not a recent phenomenon - charities and online petition-hosting companies cottoned on long ago - but I do believe it has now reached a tipping point that has sent it into the mainstream, largely due to characters such as Jamie Oliver.

(How many grandmothers will have asked their sons, daughters or grandchildren to show them 'that nice Jamie Oliver's website-thingy'?)

The internet is nearer than ever to saturation point in terms of its reach into homes in the UK and worldwide. People's willingness to vote with their mouse buttons - and even with their mobile phone and 'red button' - suggests technology has a huge part to play in future democratic process and that more and more mature activism will find its way effectively online.

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