Tag Archives: Twitter

Whatever You Think of Him, Why We Should All Stand Up For Gareth Compton

It is the stuff of nightmares.  You’re listening to a radio interview.  The interviewee  winds you up by saying that you have no moral authority to take a view on human rights.  You react immediately by putting on Twitter an ironic response to that specific point.  You don’t think hard.  You just hit send.   Just another moment in the day, just  another narky tweet.   Then things get out-of-hand.   Within 24 hours this tweet makes worldwide news headlines.  Next there are statements made in Parliament.  Next the police come and arrest you.  For Gareth Compton this nightmare is a terrifying reality.

Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really,

Any reasonable person given just those words to judge would conclude that the author is a bigot, an idiot and nasty.  I know Gareth Compton.  He is none of those things.  But you only have that one tweet to judge him on.  So I don’t expect you to believe me.

Context matters.  He was listening to Alibhai-Brown on a Radio 5 Interview (which you can hear in full here – fast-forward to 53 minutes).   Alibhai-Brown made her point that British politicians do not have any moral right to protest human rights abuses including the stoning of women in other countries.  She claimed only human rights groups or Nelson Mandela should engage in that debate.  I can imagine Gareth’s jaw dropping with outrage at the assertion he should shut-up on human rights.  He is, and I don’t expect you to believe this either, a believer in human rights and a fighter of bigotry.

If you knew Gareth, were listening to the radio and clocked the tweet when the interview was playing you would probably have ‘got it’.  You may not have found it funny, you may still have taken offence but you would have ‘got it’.  The world doesn’t know Gareth and wasn’t listening to the radio when the tweet went up.  So, the world didn’t ‘get’ it.  Truth be told, even with full context it is neither funny nor clever and has an unpleasant snarl to it.  Nevertheless, it isn’t incitement to murder. It is simply what the kids would call ‘an epic fail’ in joke telling.  Since when was that a crime?

Gareth Compton is a grown man and a partisan politician.  He takes and gives heaps in the virtual political bun-fights that litter the internet.  He has apologised unreservedly but in the rough and tumble of politics he would now expect the opposition vultures to circle and tear shreds.  If the boot was on the other foot he would do the same.  He would expect calls for ‘resignation’.  He would expect the Conservative Party to suspend him given the furore.  All of that is fair game in the playground of local politics.  But the Police? Arrest? Criminal charges?  Come on.

Voltaire famously nearly said:  “Sir, I do not agree that your jokes are funny, but I will defend unto death your right to tell them”.   I would appeal to anyone who has ever said anything knee-jerk in a pub, who ever momentarily wished harm to George Bush and said so, who has ever said anything they regretted, or ever had anything they said taken out of context (which must be all of us, right?) to stand up for Gareth in the event of any prosecution.

Even if you still think he is an idiot, a bigot, and nasty (he isn’t).  Even if his politics are Mars to your Venus.  Stand up against this thought police nonsense.

This whole sorry affair has left me terrified to type.   I have a real sadness that the hysteria that these storms whip up will deter our politicians from engaging in new social media.   It brings to mind the telling scene in “The Social Network” where the main character is confronted by an ex-girlfriend he berated on his blog.   His apology falls hollow, she looks him in the eye and says with all the power of a great metaphor –  “The internet is not written in pencil.  It is written in ink.”   It is a lesson for us all.

Nevertheless, no matter how staggeringly misjudged Gareth was, the chain of consequences has been out of all proportion.  I honestly wish Gareth well.  I believe his apology and I hope that Alibhai-Brown can find the grace within herself to accept it.  I trust the Conservative Party will be fair in their investigation and measured in subsequent action.  Our democracy needs us to have the right to say daft and wrong things without criminalising us.  We already saw yesterday with the mad judgement in the Robin Hood Airport case that this right is vanishing.  So most of all –  I pray that all thinking people – whatever their political hue or view of Gareth – demand the CPS drop this case.

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Filed under Centre Right, Indulgent, Politics, UK, UK Politics

Is Cameron Missing a Trick with Twitter? Is he heck!

Yesterday, David Cameron received a direct appeal from Conservative Uber-Blogger Tim Montgomerie to take up Twitter.  You can watch the question and response here.  Yet more pressure on the Tories to play ‘catch-up’ with this medium came with this report referenced in yesterday’s FT.

Whilst I have nothing but respect for Montgomerie and his ability to use the internet to enthuse & engage Conservative activists I think he’s dead wrong on the value of Twitter.  Cameron is right not to waste his finite time on this fad.  Cards on the table: I’m a relative newbie to Twitter, I resisted the hype for a year or two but when I started blogging I joined hoping to drive some traffic to this blog.  I suppose from that point of view it has been successful. I haven’t sussed it out all the etiquette yet, but there are a couple of things I have learned – all of which for me suggest DC should stay away:

  • The oft-published league tables for ‘number-of-followers’ are nonsense – any quick Google search will show you how to quickly ‘buy’ followers, and there is a juvenile (yet compelling) culture of ‘I’ll follow you if you follow me’.  Look at the million plus followers C grade Radio 5 DJ Richard Bacon has signed up.  If you believe the headline then one in sixty people in the UK is clinging to his every 140 character utterance.  If you actually look at his account you have to scroll through literally thousands of Far Eastern sounding names before you find a single person who appears to be a potential 5-live listener.  Either he has a huge cult following in China and the Philippines or his PR agency have recruited a decent ‘follower farmer’.  It can only be a matter of time before the Media suss this out and ‘number-of-followers’ stops being a measure of digital credibility and gravitas – and actually becomes the reverse.  You also need to drop the assumption that because someone ‘follows you’ they actually bother to read your tweets.  A quick look at a sample of twitter accounts shows many follow hundreds or even thousands of people.   Once people are following that kind of volume, you realise your most profound tweets are lost to many in the sheer noise of the place.

The magic is having quality followers not the quantity of them.

  • For Cameron a ‘quality’ follower would be a swing voter who is only following a handful of other people. The reality is that most people on Twitter are either IT Geeks, Media/Marketing Types or Political Animals – the vast majority of this crowd are dead set in who they will vote for. Those who aren’t political are unlikely to be inclined to follow Cameron.  He would either be preaching to the converted or the lynch mob.
  • Staying off also avoids the potential banana skin of the ill-advised tweets after a shandy or two. I actually follow our local Labour MP in the hope she drops a clanger.

It is therefore simply not a good use of the man’s time and a distraction from methods of campaigning that could engage the people he isn’t currently reaching. Don’t get me wrong Twitter is a neat communication technology and it has its place – but it aint the game changer its proponents think it is and DC is right in sidestepping it.

All that dissing Twitter said, if anyone wishes to follow me I’m @guythemac – I tweet rarely, and only use it to draw attention to new material written on here – I’m sure most of my few tweets are drowned out in the ether – but that’s OK –  I have some time to waste – David Cameron does not.

*This article is a tidy-up of a response I left on Conservative home – that debate there can be seen here.

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Filed under Centre Right, Politics, UK, UK Politics