100 days of campaigning left, and the great debate on Scotland’s future heats up considerably, especially on Twitter, home of the epigrammatic 140 character tweet. This has produced some predictable, but also many surprising manifestations of the new intensity.
I am relatively new to Twitter and the new media, and it has been a steep learning curve for me, as a I struggled to come to grips with the nature of a medium so different from my normal mode of expression, but so close to real life political debate as it exists in the 21st century world.
But I must confess to surprise that the learning curve, steep as it is, is still being climbed by some of our younger political professionals, and a few of them appear to be stuck on ledges.
The critical early decision when first exposed to the potential torrent of tweets is who to ‘follow’. Unless the neophyte sticks to going in search of specific twitterers, a decision has to be made to let all tweets originating from a specific Twitter address to come through. This is roughly equivalent to voluntarily going on someone’s mailing list - i.e. send me everything you have to say. By doing so, the door is opened to all relevant communications, but also much that is irrelevant or even unwelcome. Is the dross acceptable as the price to pay for the occasional gold dust?
In probing the fascinating depths of Twitter, it must be recognised that users engage in the medium from various motivations. I loosely categorise these as
1. A simple wish to share the minutiae of day-to-day life with others. (Some users argue that this was the real original purpose of Twitter, implicit in its very name, and resent criticism of it, ignoring the ornithological fact that bird twittering always has a purpose, usually a serious one.)
2. A wish to communicate and share an enthusiasm, or set of enthusiasms with a wider audience of like-minded twitterers.
3. A commercial purpose - the wish to publicise a product or service.
4. A celebrity PR strategy - an attempt to remain in the public consciousness by sharing often trivial thoughts. It is a variant of the commercial strategy above. (Stephen Fry is a prime exponent of this, although I suspect he is driven by deeper psychological imperative than publicity.)
5. A news agenda - partly by a commercial purpose - to publicise the media channel - but also by a simple imperative to report and comment on events.
6. A political agenda, either to promote a specific party or a set of political ideas, often both.
7. A legion of other twitterers with an incredible range of agenda, often of the nutter-to-nutter category, sometime criminal nutter-to-nutter, sometimes exploiter to exploitee, and I suspect sometime a simple criminal agenda.
My purpose is a party political one, but also a communication of ideas, and very recently, a single issue campaign.
Initially alerted to a new idea by today’s tweets, I shortly thereafter received a private message inviting me to un-follow the Scottish Labour Party’s tweets from @scottishlabour. The rationale accompanying this request was that I should show my distaste for their ‘negative campaigning’ by refusing to follow them.
My view, expressed rather more briefly in my reply, is as follows -
Following doesn't imply support on Twitter - it is a wish to know, a selective filter. Not to know what @scottishlabour are tweeting is closing down a channel of information and an opportunity for response. Not to listen to what your political opposition is saying is like intelligence services in wartime refusing to monitor the enemy's communications.
My campaigning on Twitter is vigorous, robust, and I hope negative in the sense that it points up the failure of Labour over generations - and I span three, close to four generations - to serve the people of Scotland and the people of Glasgow. I have no objection to negativity, providing it is balanced by a positive message and clear policies and objectives.