» twitter ¦ What You Can Get Away With

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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Off to the Lake District for a week, so no fresh blogging until I get back next week. I have scheduled a few posts to appear during the week, just to keep my new posting schedule up, but if you want to know what I’m doing for the next few days you’ll have to follow me on Twitter, where hopefully I won’t be posting ‘raining again’ too much.

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A thought occurs to me: if you have a phone capable of sending messages by SMS, what’s to stop you branding it as ‘Twitter-compatible’?

An addition to this is the thought that someone – possibly inspired by the Amstrad Emailer – is currently working on a Home Twitterphone system so that you too can join in the fun and send messages through your normal phone. All responses will either be read out to you by the automated SMS voice or printed out and sent to you by post for an additional charge.

I’m not saying this is a workable business model, but I do wonder how much seed capital the right pitch might get from befuddled investors looking to leap on the latest bandwagon.

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Some other hashtags that might have been used instead of #welovethenhs:
#nothenhsisntperfectbutilikehavingasystemthatsfreeatthepointofdelivery
#iactuallydontgetonwithmygpbutidstillratherdiscussmyhealthcarewiththemthansomeonfromaninsurancecompanythankyouverymuch
#ihavealotofexperienceofhowthefrenchsystemcaredformybrotherandthinkthatseemedprettyeffective
#copayisaveryuglywordandidontwantasystemthatmeanswehavetostartusingit
#casualtyisstillrunningwhileerhasbeencancelledsothatsoneniltothenhsrightthere

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As we’re on the subject of Council meetings, I should begin this post by declaring a personal interest in that I know both the Councillors mentioned in this story, and indeed have campaigned for both of them to be elected – though I would stress that Rene was a Liberal Democrat at the time I was campaigning for him.

I am also someone who has Twittered during Council meetings, which is probably the most relevant part to this discussion, as I really don’t see what Peter or Rene has done as being wrong. For me, using Twitter is a way to communicate during a meeting and to let people outside know what’s going on. This may come as a shock to some people, but the people of Colchester (and the people of Swansea too, unless they’ve changed dramatically since I lived there) don’t hange breathlessly on every word uttered in the Council Chamber. Tweeting little snippets about what’s happening, or my commentary on something, is a way to let people know what is going on. I’d also note that as far as I recall, I’ve only Tweeted during Full Council meetings in which the vast majority of Councillors spend 99% of their time listening to other people speak – and as an intelligent adult human being, I am capable of listening to someone and writing a text message about what they’re saying at the same time, in the same way I’m capable of writing notes on pen and paper while listening to someone.

And I know I’m not alone in this – I follow various other politicians on Twitter and they’ve posted updates from Council Chambers, Assemblies and Parliaments from all sides of the political spectrum. To claim that someone is ‘showing contempt’ for one of them by being able to multi-task is a rather ridiculous claim, unless you believe that representatives should spend all their times in meetings sitting ramrod-straight, doing nothing but staring intently at the person currently speaking, hanging on their every word.

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