What You Can Get Away With » twitter

Going through my recap of old posts, I’ve recently found the one where I announced that I’d joined Twitter. Almost four years on from that, I now have an additional Twitter account – @CllrNickBarlow – that I’ll use solely for ‘official’ stuff. It’ll mainly be about things I’m doing as a councillor, information about meetings and events and will hopefully work as a point of contact for people who want to contact me about Council business, rather than getting that and everything else confused.

Don’t worry, my main account will still be continuing as normal, though the two will have separate content.

I spent yesterday in London at the first ever Councillor Camp. This wasn’t a group of local government people hanging around in tents and/or pretending to be Kenneth Williams, but a version of BarCamp especially for councillors who wanted to look at ways we could use social media to better carry out our roles. It was organised by the LGIU and Futuregov, and we were very lucky to be hosted by Facebook, who gave us the run of their London training and meeting room, complete with Doctor Who-themed room names.

Unlike most local government events that I get invited to, this was a free event, and rather than having a rigid schedule, it was run as an ‘unconference‘ where most of the sessions and what they covered were determined by the participants, not by some schedule determined in advance. Another key feature of the day was that we were all encouraged to keep electronic devices on throughout the day and so as well as what was happening at the event itself, there was lots of discussion on the #cllrcamp hashtag on Twitter.

The day started with a number of different speakers offering a variety of perspectives on the use of social media in local politics. Again, this differed from normal conferences in that they were only allowed five minutes each to speak, and thus none of the presentations turned into death by PowerPoint. (“Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair.”) This meant they had to boil things down to a few key points, which helped to set the tone for the day, rather than telling everyone what to think. Some key points I picked up from those speeches:

  • Brighton and Hove Council created their own Twitter hashtag – #bhbudget – to promote online discussion of their budget, and councillors were active participants in the online debate, which did feed concrete proposals into the budget
  • Denmark’s tax authorities use their online presence to post details and pictures of what people’s taxes are used for
  • “Be yourself – everyone else is taken.” “Your residents are human, so be human.” Politicians need to be on social media as themselves, not constructing a separate online personality.
  • After those brief talks, we were into the main meat of the day, with people filling out a huge number of post-it that were then collated together into a grid of different sessions, where we could talk about what we wanted to. These discussion sessions were, for me, more useful than breakout sessions at other events. Again, there was no sitting round watching one person PowerPoint us to death, and the fact that people had come to a session because they wanted to be there and had chosen the topic meant people were much more willing to participate.

    (And in itself, letting people define the terms of their engagement and interaction, not having it rigidly imposed from on high is something local government could and should learn to do)

    I could go on for ages, but some of the thoughts I’ve had from Councillor Camp are likely going to generate posts in themselves over the weeks to come, but here are some of the key points for me:

  • Engaging in social media means giving up some control – councils and councillors can create and start discussions, but can’t determine where it goes after that.
  • There has to be more work done to get more people involved and online, so the discussion isn’t just amongst the most savvy.
  • Any social media strategy has to be capable of evolving to recognise the growth of new networks and platforms.
  • A new generation is coming through who see being online and involved in social media as entirely natural and integral to their lives, not an added extra (see this quote fromDouglas Adams). That councillors are generally much older than the population they represent could create issues here.
  • The effectiveness of your social media presence is linked to authenticity – people expect you to be yourself and respond as such, not a programmed drone.
  • Interactivity is expected, not an added-extra. People will expect to interact with the social media presence of councils and councillors and get a meaningful response.
  • There’s more to come – and some of it might link with the thoughts I’ve had after reading The Political Brain this week – but overall Councillor Camp was a great experience, and I’d recommend any follow up and repeat events to other councillors, especially those who aren’t as engaged online and want to discover how to go further. One idea suggested was the potential for regional events, to get more people involved in a more convenient location – anyone fancy a Councillor Camp East?

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    The instalment you’ve all been waiting for. Somewhere within these links lies the final secret of the Illuminati. Probably.

    The “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” Article – Jay Rosen notes a trend in the press
    Conservative coffers boosted in “sale of opportunities” to kids of the super rich – Not really the image you want to present to the public, is it?
    Egypt And (No) Democracy – Zelo Street on how various US right-wingers are pushing the whole ‘democracy should only be given to people who agree with us’ argument.
    Britain gets comfy as Melanie Phillips explains ‘Biblical sexuality’ – The Daily Mash explains just how people consume the views of “the Daily Mail’s in-house Tasmanian Devil”.
    Multiculturalism and the Monkeysphere – On Angry Mob, an interesting discussion about how our worldview is limited by the number of people we can properly know. (via)

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    Just to let you all know that the 4th Colchester Winter Ale Festival is happening for the next few days. It’s running every day from noon through to 11pm at Colchester Arts Centre with a wide variety of beers available.

    I’m also informed that it will be the venue for a Colhester tweetup – a gathering of Colchester Twitter users, if you don’t know what that means – on Saturday afternoon from 3pm. Hopefully I’ll be there for that, so come along and say hello.

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    From what I can tell, this is how it happened:

    First, someone working at ITV News forgets that they’re logged into the work Twitter account, rather than their personal one, and tweets: “Nigella Lawson is nowhere near as attractive as she thinks she is”

    This is spotted, and retweeted, by Andy Reeves. A short while after that, Andy finds that his Twitter account is suspended (and at the time of writing this post, it still is).

    Any explanations?

    (Via Jennie)

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    The observant amongst you will have noticed that I’m not at Liberal Democrat Conference this year. I had originally intended to go, but then events (the Tour of Britain on Friday, the Free Festival yesterday and various meetings next week) got in the way and meant it wouldn’t really have been worth my while to go all the way up to Liverpool for just a day or two.

    Or so I thought. When I heard I’d been nominated for a Blog of the Year award for co-creating the bizarre phenomenon that was #nickcleggsfault , I thought it was nice to be recognised but there was no way I’d win the award, and I assumed that was the general consensus from the lack of interest there was in volunteering to stand in for me at the awards. It was quite a big surprise, then, to turn my computer on this morning and discover that I’d won.

    So, with thanks to Stephen Tall for standing in for me and providing a relevant excuse, here’s an approximation of what I might have said had I been there to accept the award last night:

    First off, I’d like to thank Justin McKeating – while I used the phrase ‘Nick Clegg’s fault’, he was the person who put a hash in front of it while blaming Nick for stubbing his toe. However, I don’t think either of us expected it to become as explosively popular as it did.

    I also feel somewhat guilty about winning this award as I did basically nothing compared to the hard work everyone else has done – I was one of the supporters of Bridget’s motion to get the Digital Economy Bill discussed at the last Conference, I’ve seen the amount of work candidates like Daisy and Tamora do even before they spend time doing digital campaigning on top of that and I’m still a member of Simon’s Vote Clegg, Get Clegg group and see how it’s continuing to generate interesting – and by the usual internet standards, fantastically polite – conversations months after the election. So, to get this award for typing 140 characters early one morning seems almost as absurd as some of the things Nick was being blamed for and so I’d also like to thank everyone out there who took part in #nickcleggsfault back in April and May – this is as much your award as it mine and Justin’s.

    It’s still coming home with me and going on my mantelpiece, though.

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    Budgeting

    We’re currently having lots of meetings talking about Colchester Council’s budget for next year. Because of the economic situation and the likely severe drop in money we get from the Government – despite the fact we still send them far more of the business rates we collect for them than we get in return – there are likely to be cuts in several areas, so we want to know which areas are of the most importance to people in Colchester.

    So, to have your say on which areas you think are most and least important – and to suggest any other savings or income ideas for the Council you might have – visit www.colchester.gov.uk/yourcolchester and have your say. You can also take part in the process by following @YourColchester on Twitter.

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    I’ve been mentioned in the Daily Mirror. Sadly, not for any great achievement on my part, or coming out with some great opinion that needed to be heard by the people, but because they can’t be bothered to report a story properly. I was one of several people who tweeted from the Lib Dem Special Conference yesterday about Tom McNally and Chris Huhne pledging to leave the Government if the Human Rights Act goes but I was the one named as a source by the Mirror – possibly because I’m a councillor and say so on my Twitter profile – rather than any of the many others who mentioned it as well.

    Of course, a decent journalist might have contacted Huhne or McNally themselves, but why go through all the hassle of having to work out how to get in touch with a Liberal Democrat minister when your deadline’s pressing, and you can just do all your work by following Twitter hashtags?

    Tomorrow’s Mirror headline: Lib Dems are secretly alien lizards from space. Though I am kind of hoping some crazed follower of David Icke will one day find that and hold it up as proof that the Turquoise Messiah is right.

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    I’m still not quite sure what part of today I’ve found the strangest – the news that Marmite are suing the BNP over a Party Political Broadcast, that Iain Dale wrote a post deploring the personal attacks on Nick Clegg, or the fact that a brief conversation between me and Justin on Twitter spawned a globe-spanning meme. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time a first-thing-in-the-morning off-hand comment of mine has ended up inspiring a song.

    Before I forget to recommend it, some other stuff worth reading out there on the internets from Steph Ashley and Alix Mortimer.

    I suppose today is the day where I can excuse my lack of activity on the local campaign by claiming I was focusing on the national/internet campaign. What I’ve found interesting during this campaign is that the party do seem to have finally understood internet campaigning and not tried to interfere with spontaneous internet uprisings. For example the people who created and turned the Rage Against The Machine Facebook group into such a phenomenon (it now has a membership almost double the party’s) have been allowed to get on with it in their own way. They’ve been given advice and support from the party when it’s been asked for – though even that’s mostly been crowdsourced – but there’s been no one from Cowley Street trying to muscle in and insist that they must do it a certain way.

    There’s definitely something happening during this election as the rules change around us. Someone mentioned to me this morning that they’d heard someone – we think it was UKIP or the English Democrats – travelling around the streets in a car with a PA on it. That’s something that probably seemed like an incredible innovation 80 or 90 years, was a staple of campaigning in the 70s, but is now almost entirely gone from campaigns. Could elections in 10 or 20 years time see all the attention paid to Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups while everyone wonders why they don’t get scores of leaflets through their doors anymore?

    (Quick thought: I wonder if anyone’s studied what happens to domestic paper recycling rates and amounts during election campaigns?)

    On that note, I can’t remember if I’ve linked to David Yelland’s excellent Guardian article yet: Nick Clegg’s rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of UK politics. If you want to know why certain parts of the press are going so over-the-top in their attacks on Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, it’s a good start in explaining why, as is this Michael Wollf piece. Plus, Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 News speculates about just what senior News International executives were doing in the office block that the Independent shares with the Daily Mail.

    Back to party politics, though, and I wonder if this decentralisation of campaigning might lead to a whole new way of organising political parties in the UK? Does the traditional membership model really work when you don’t need to jump through committee hoops to run your campaign, you just need to start a Facebook group or come up with a Twitter hashtag and see who rallies around. Ken MacLeod discussed some of these changes in his Morning Star interview this week, and even though he’s coming at it from the perspective of the Left, there are similarities:

    MacLeod’s analysis of far-left movements is far from uncritical. He points out that left-wing movements have been slow to embrace new technologies, in part because the internet “challenges a set of Leninist assumptions that a lot of far-left groups had about how discussions must and should be conducted.

    “A lot of the formal rules of the left are still based on 19th-century communications technology – the idea that revolutionary politics are built around a top-level party line set down by a newspaper, which everyone has to agree with. The internet negates that process,” he says, adding hastily that “the Star has a head start, in that it allows in voices from outside the party.”

    Probably something for more thought after the election, though.

    One other thing that’s been on my mind today is A Very British Coup. I caught a bit of it a few weeks ago when Yesterday were repeating it, and am glad to discover that Channel 4 have made the whole thing available on YouTube and 4OD. In AVBC, the establishment and the press attempt to bring down a radical Prime Minister who rises to power after a major scandal in the City, and I’m wondering if Chris Mullin was being optimistic in assuming the press would wait until after Harry Perkins was in office.

    Right, that’s all for now – did deliver 40 letters for the campaign this morning, taking the total there to 2,410, and am down to quite a bit of canvassing tomorrow to boost the figure there quite a lot. More commentary after tonight’s debate, when I’m fully expecting Gordon Brown to tell us he’s been reading the Twitter and discovered it’s all Nick Clegg’s fault.

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    For entirely ego-driven reasons, I feel the world needs to know how this morning’s Twitter meme began:

    chickyog: Morning all. has Nick Robinson exploded yet?
    nickjbarlow: @chickyog No, but when he does, the Telegraph and Mail will claim it’s Nick Clegg’s fault.
    chickyog: @nickjbarlow Ha. I feel a meme coming on.
    chickyog: Just stubbed my toe #nickcleggsfault

    Oh, and my favourite thing to blame Nick Clegg for so far? This:

    Chinese Democracy took 15 years because Nick Clegg was arguing with Axl about adopting proportional representation.

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