The Trouble With Politicians on Twitter

STOP! STOP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING, NO MATTER HOW IMPORTANT IT IS. THIS REQUIRES YOUR FULL ATTENTION.

Ed Milliband wrote “blackbusters” in a tweet instead of a “blockbusters.”

I think he should resign immediately because there’s just no forgiving such a mistake. This clearly brings into question his ability to lead a major political party and run for Prime Minister at the next general election.

</sarcasm>

I absolutely love Twitter. You probably knew that as the chances are you were just referred to this post from my Twitter account (@Joannaaa). I also think it’s a great tool for political communication, whether that be for PR purposes, as part of an election campaign strategy or to facilitate communication between politicians and the public.

Yet, politicians setting up camp in the Twittersphere has not been entirely smooth. Here’s a round up of a few stories where a politician’s relationship with Twitter has (rightly or wrongly) caused a media stir…

Crying Over Spilt Milk – Ed Miliband and #blackbusters

In what was meant to be a tribute to the late Bob Holness, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s tweeted “Blackbusters” instead of “Blockbusters.” Cue complete media-frenzy and attack on Ed Miliband’s ability to be leader through the #blackbusters hashtag.

Firstly, if Guido is to be believed, he didn’t even write it. No surprises there as his Twitter seems to be largely for PR purposes and what politician would waste their time writing their own promotional tweets?

The theories behind what was the underlying cause of #blackbusters is just ridiculous.

The Telegraph is claiming “The slip-up suggests yesterday’s ‘race row’, in which Miliband was compelled to rebuke Diane Abbott, is still weighing on the Labour leader’s mind.” Really Telegraph?! I’m fully aware of your Conservative bias, but are we actually speculating it was some kind of Freudian (typing) slip?!

Another claim is that it couldn’t be a typo because ‘O’ and ‘A’ are on opposite sides of a QWERTY keyboard. So all of a sudden, ‘fat fingers’ are the only cause of typographical errors.

I make frequent typing errors on Twitter and, low and behold, it’s not always down to ‘fat fingers’. If you asked me why I make them, I would have no idea. That being said, it’s similarly ludicrous how Labour supporters are trying to claim that “Ed” may have been using a different kind of keyboard and therefore it was actually a ‘fat fingers’ typo.

I don’t think ever seen one letter cause such a stir.

Lesson #1: Don’t make a typo on Twitter where it couldn’t have been caused by ‘fat fingers’.  Especially one that could  be said to be a Freudian slip, because people will claim you’re thick. Proofread before publishing. Twice. Get a second opinion if necessary.

The Curse of The “Private” Conversation – Diane Abbott

In what was a public conversation between herself and another Twitter user, Diane wrote “white people love playing ‘divide and rule’”. Queue accusations of her being racist.

I’m not going to ridicule this one. Even if she didn’t intend to generalise white people as whole, saying such a blunt statement was always going to be picked up on.

It seems she fell victim to the ‘forgetting that Twitter conversations are actually there for public consumption’ syndrome. It can happen, particularly when conversing with friends. Politicians should be aware that Tweets can be ‘taken out of their original context’ and splashed across the media. Twitter shouldn’t be mistaken for a cosy platform to have political debates amongst friends (that’s what Facebook is for).

Lesson #2: Don’t sacrifice political correctness in the quest for 160 characters.

Trying to Take on The Twittersphere – David Cameron

Back in 2009, Dave remarked in a radio interview “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.”

To an extent, it’s a pretty good line and I’m from the generation that doesn’t care if a (then) Prime Ministerial candidate ‘swears’ on a radio interview (although whether ‘twat’ is a swear word is a grey area). Although taking on a rather influential social media site, particularly one so popular with ‘the next generation’ of voters, was always going to be controversial.

So, did the line mean he was out of touch with the internet habits of youth and the rise of social networks ?!

Maybe. But after the media circus that was made out of Ed Miliband’s typo, it’s probably a good thing that the current Prime Minister doesn’t have one. And as long as the media are willing to obsessively ridicule any typo that may be made, Dave’s one-liner for not having a Twitter account is even more relevant.

Also, he would’ve struggled to find an appropriate username as his American doppelganger who is “much more awesome than the Prime Minister” is currently sitting on @Davidcameron.

Lesson #3: You don’t need a Twitter account to get ridiculed on Twitter, about Twitter.

So, Given Recent Events, Should Politicians Use Twitter?

Yes, they should. It feel Twitter is good for both politicians themselves and the public.

Obviously, it does require common sense from the politicians using it. Like every media appearance, you must be careful on what you say and not be ‘lured’ into a false sense of security that a) your @replies won’t be read by anybody else, and b) only having 160 characters to play with is not an excuse for not adhering to the codes of political correctness.

I would love for Twitter to be used more widely by politicians, and for more than just spewing out favourable PR coverage. Yet, the use of Twitter by politicians won’t be encouraged if Twitter users and the media claim that a (rather unlucky) typo completely undermines one’s ability as a politician, or a potential leader.

Calling someone a ‘bigot’ in “private” is one thing. Am I really want to care if you or your press secretary accidently types an ‘a’ instead of an ‘o’? If I am, it really is a new low for how the electorate is judging politicians’ abilities.

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