Twitter and the rise of new media

Something fascinating happened yesterday. I was browsing through one of the internet forums I regularly visit when I noticed someone posting that people should go to the Daily Mail poll page on their website and vote yes to the poll that asks “Should gypsies jump the queue on the NHS?” in order to mess with them.

When I got to the page and duly voted “Yes” I was astonished to see that the poll was at 93% Yes and 7% No. The forum I refer to has nowhere near enough people to make a dent in the thousands who vote in these polls so I started to wonder what was going on. I soon got my answer later on when I was browsing on Twitter.

I noticed that Graham Linehan (one of the team behind Father Ted and a prolific blogger @Glinner) had taken it upon himself to tweet this earlier in the day:

Worst Daily Mail poll ever. VOTE YES to skew the results and pass it on! http://bit.ly/w4b6Q (Via @antonvowl)

There were then hundreds of “retweets” (abbreviated to RT in Twitter argot) from some of Graham’s 22,000 followers and lots more from their followers and so on and so on. I kept an eye on it and at one stage there were several retweets of this per minute. Within a few hours the Daily Mail had taken the poll off the website. A bit later I noticed this tweet from Graham:

http://bit.ly/1kFYK Daily Mail now going after wheelie bins! Well? Are we going to stand for that? Vote and RT!

At last time of looking this poll was saying that 60% of people want to keep wheelie bins which of course flies in the face of the Mail’s campaign to try and get rid of them.

Twitter is the best medium yet invented to spread this sort of “viral” campaigning message. People like Mr Linehan with their many thousands of followers, each of whom usually have a few hundred followers themselves (who in turn have their own followers and so on) have extraordinary power to mobilise action in only a few minutes or hours. He also mobilised his followers a couple of months ago against the Scottish Sunday Express following their shocking “expose” of the Dunblane massacre survivors being normal adults which I myself also blogged about here. The result of that campaign was a full apology from the Scottish Sunday Express. I am not saying Mr Linehan was the sole reason for this but his campaign must have made a strong contribution.

Forward looking journalists such as Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News (@krishgm) and Paul Waugh the deputy political editor of the London Evening Standard (@paulwaugh) use Twitter both to keep people informed of what they are doing but also to source stories. Both of them are must follows on Twitter for anyone interested in politics and the journalistic process. I have seen first hand how they pick up stories; Paul actually picked up two of my blog posts and blogged about them himself in the last few weeks and Krishnan led on Channel 4 News recently with information that I saw him get from Twitter about Iran.

The response from Twitter about the situation in Iran has been incredible. There have been millions of tweets from people in support of what is happening, useful information such as open IP addresses and ways of circumventing the blocks the authorities have tried to put in place for communications and information from inside Iran itself. There have also been other actions such as many people choosing to put a green overlay on their avatar in support and changing their location to Tehran and their time zone to match Iranian time in order to confuse the authorities there trying to trace Iranian Twitterers. It would not be overstating it to say that Twitter has been vital to the success of the protests thus far.

I have also seen first hand the way that new media clashes with old media. A few weeks back I attended a meeting in my local Bracknell constituency that my MP Andrew MacKay had called in order to try to explain to his constituents what had happened with his expense claims. The meeting itself was overwhelmingly against him with many calls for him to stand down and a lot of barracking. Even members of his own party were insisting that he should go for the good of their party. I would say at most 10% or 15% of people who spoke were in support of him.

When I first entered the hall there was a gentleman next to me who was trying to take a video camera in and was being prevented from doing so by one of the stewards. The line was that apparently no cameras were allowed in the hall and having spoken to Peter Henley, the BBC South political editor it transpired that none of the news media were allowed to film the event either. The gentleman protested that he should be able to film the event for the benefit of constituents unable to attend the meeting. I joined in the argument and eventually the steward under pressure relented. I mention this because it is very instructive with respect to what happened next. Mr MacKay was clearly trying to suppress the coverage of the meeting.

Straight afterwards, Mr MacKay went to the news media outside and on camera claimed that he had the support of 75% of the meeting. I only saw this on the news when I got home but I was agog at his brazenness. There was no way in the world that the meeting had been 75% with him. It then became clear to me what he had been trying to do. He was going to spin this and with his edict that no footage could be taken he hoped to get away with it.

Unfortunately for him there were at least 2 cameras that had found their way into the meeting. Here is a link to footage of it which seems pretty representative of what happened. I think a copy of this found its way to David Cameron and the next morning apparently he insisted that Mr MacKay had to stand down. Mr Cameron understood that this footage would spread like wildfire across the internet and Mr MacKay’s claims that the meeting was 75% with him would have been see for the ill-judged spin it was.

The technology is only going to get faster and easier to access. Already people with iPhones and other mobile devices can access these new media and communication channels almost anywhere. the challenge for the political parties is to embrace this.

I will end by briefly giving my view on how the Lib Dems are doing in this respect. My background is in software development and I run my own software house, Southfacing Services where I am IT director so I have some insight into this. I attended the Lib Dem Coders meeting a few weeks back in Cowley Street which was organised by Lynne Featherstone, Mark Pack, Richard Allan and Helen Duffett. I was very impressed by the number of attendees and the breadth and depth of knowledge in that room. The Lib Dems do not have as much money as the other parties to throw at the IT problem so the idea is to try and tap the skills within the ranks of party members and to get volunteers to work on IT projects for the parties.

I think this is a good idea and have offered my services to the cause. From what I have observed so far, the IT skills within the party are randomly distributed. Someone like Martin Tod, PPC for Winchester for example is very good technically (he wrote the Flock Together software for example) and is clearly using the new technology well via Twitter and blogging as do a number of other candidates and MPs. However the coverage is patchy and there are some constituencies where there is very little use made of the new technology and where the local websites have a distinctly web 1.0 feel to them with no facility to leave comments or engage.

I am helping out in my local constituency and have set up a campaigning blog (Bracknell Blog) and am helping to train up our local members on how to use this new technology. I think we need at least one person in each local party to take responsibility for pushing this forward now. If we can seize the opportunity with an election less than a year away it could help to make a big difference if we can punch above our weight with in this area and I think any members who have these sorts of skills could be vital in this. If we don’t have them, we should do our best to recruit them!

Now does anyone know what Graham Linehan’s phone number is….

Mark Thompson blogs at http://markreckons.blogspot.com/ and tweets as @MarkReckons at http://twitter.com/MarkReckons/

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This entry was posted in News and Online politics.
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8 Comments

  • Wot they got against wheelie bins for heaven’s sake!?

  • Can we please let this annoying Twitter fad die? It is so incredibly irritating to have to read about.

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