Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is Kerry McCarthy delusional or just a n00b?

I'm seriously starting to worry about the sanity of Kerry McCarthy MP. No, I'm not suggesting that she's on tablets or anything like - although some of the things she is saying do sometimes make me think "put down the crack pipe love" I must admit. You see, Kerry McCarthy is the Labour Party's "Twitter Tsar". She's in charge of getting Labour to engage with "teh Interweb", and, like a typical n00b, she's appears to be getting somewhat lost up in the influence it, and things like Twitter, actually have.

This sort of thing happens quite a lot when people first start talking online heavily. They start to merge VR and RL and forget the demarcation. They start to think that what goes on in VR is known about by everyone in RL and actually has a massive influence on the non-VR world. This has led Kerry McCarthy to say that "proper politics" is happening on Twitter, where a user can post a message with a maximum of 140 characters. As Iain Dale has noted, on the news that Sun had backed Labour, she also said "Labour doesn't need The Sun. We've got Twitter."

The thing is, a quick look on Tweetminster will show you that MPs, Labour, Tory and Lib Dem alike, have an average of around 400 or so "followers" of their updates each. Cabinet ministers have a tendency to be in the low thousands, but what does that really mean when you have a constituency with an average of says 60,000 voters? Not a lot I would say. The chances are for Cabinet ministers more of their followers are not from their constituency than are. Now compare this to the circulation of national newspapers.

The Sun has a readership of around 10,000,000 (according to them), that's over 15% of the entire country, including children who cannot vote, take the children out and it's even more. Throw in the circulation of other papers, and the reach and influence they have makes the influence of Twitter negligible at best, and laughable at worst. Yet here we have Labour's supposed Internet guru thinking that Twitter is the tool to save them. She's not just bought the hype, she's riding on it like a wave.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the Internet doesn't have an influence. The impact of Google results in conjunction with widely read blogs, can mean that individuals can shift and move agendas. Likewise, Twitter can have a very small role. However, the idea that MPs and political activists posting 140 character messages on an unmoderated streaming service where they are essentially talking to each other is not anything like as powerful Kerry McCarthy thinks.

The unmoderated point is important too because messages can be good and bad. Twitter has the wonderful thing called hashtags which allows users to group messages together under a subject. Over the summer we had the #welovethenhs tag which soared up Twitter and hit the mainstream news. However, I believe even the Labour MP Tom Watson - who is a geek at heart - noted recently that Labour actually killed that natural development on Twitter by jumping on the bandwagon, because it was never meant to be about party politics.

If Kerry McCarthy seriously believes that (a) "proper politics" can happen in 140 character messages which are often devoid of vowels to save on space, and (b) that Twitter is more influential on party politics and elections than the mainstream media, then I fear she is becoming delusional. Saying that though, she is still a n00b, and as I said, this sort of merging of VR and IR is common when you get started in the big bad world of online communication.
VR = Virtual Reality
RL - Real Life

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