A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Twitter claims first candidate scalp

The New Statesman has dug out - http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/04/labour-candidate-twitter-calls - my warning from a while back:

"one ill-considered email, tweet, blog post or Facebook status upset by a candidate or campaigner can provide a lot of ammo for the old-fashioned media to shred a party's campaign with."

Today we saw the first candidate have to resign/be sacked by their party because of their offensive tweets - Young Labour activist Stuart MacLennan who was running in such a difficult seat for Labour - the SNP's Moray - that he probably assumed no one except his mates was reading his Twitter feed.

Clearly he had to go - the stuff he said was offensive by any criteria and totally inappropriate language for a PPC.

But there is a wider issue about social media that this case makes more relevant.

For young people and students what they write on Twitter or Facebook is on a par with the text messages or phone calls they make, or with chatting in the pub. It is seen as a private medium for friends to chat.

But for people in public life, Twitter or Facebook is more akin to another form of broadcasting, and therefore the language you use needs to be almost as constrained as if you were being interviewed on TV or radio.

The problem Stuart MacLennan encountered is that he moved from being a private young person twittering offensive and silly remarks to his mates, to being a candidate for public office whose remarks are a matter of public interest. I understand some of the offensive tweets were written before he was selected as a candidate but have only just become public.

With anything anyone writes on the Internet being cached somewhere we need to think about a statute of limitations on how long ago someone had to say something stupid or offensive and still be judged on it. I think in Stuart MacLennan's case it was too recent to be excused as long distant youthful folly. But given that almost every young person in the country has written stuff on Facebook or Twitter or had pictures posted of themselves which would be damaging if they became a parliamentary candidate we have to watch that we don't set the bar so high that in future only people who spent their youth with no access to social media and lived a totally blameless life can run for office.

David Cameron has defended his right to a private life "before politics" when questioned about drugs. We may have a dilemma in that most young people consider their use of social media websites part of their private life, yet the things they have written are both public and permanent. I'm not sure how we resolve that.

In the mean time my warning to blogging and tweeting political activists still stands: what you write can't be unwritten and has as much potential to derail your campaign and get you in papers for all the wrong reasons as to enhance it.


Blogger cynicalHighlander said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:43 pm, April 09, 2010

Blogger cynicalHighlander said...

Sorry that link didn't work either.


4:49 pm, April 09, 2010

Blogger Will said...

I think part of the problem as well is the willingness to use moments like this as a stick with which to beat the party that's in the frame. Now, of course, gaffes and fiascos like this are reported on, but the reaction generates problems for other parties down the line.

Take, for example, "Cheesegate", when an assistant to SNP Minister Mike Russell was unmasked as the author of "The Universality of Cheese", a blog which was usually a good read, but contained a handful of intemperate posts, one of which saw Jim Murphy described with a very unfortunate word. When the identity of the blogger was revealed, Labour demanded a full SNP apology and an inquiry into whether or not Mike Russell knew about the blog and whether or not he had proposed material for it. It allowed Scottish Labour to create this image of itself as the innocent victims of 'vicious CyberNat smears'.

Then a Scottish Labour candidate, and staffer to a frontbench Labour spokesperson is the one caught out in the scandal.

The lesson, I think, is that it's unwise for anyone to get on their high horse about online shenanigans: a party claiming innocence finds that the consequences of any scandal where one of their members is the perp will rebound twice as hard. There but for the grace of blogs, etc.

11:11 pm, April 09, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK but you have got to admit - in Stuart MacLennan's favour - in one of his Twitter messages he described your Labour MP Diane Abbott as “a f**king idiot”. You must have loved that!

2:39 am, April 11, 2010

Anonymous Julian Ware-Lane said...

I agree that you should not have things held against you forever. It is often said that Westminster is full of those who have done nothing but politics, and yet those who have had lives are likely to have said or done something silly in the past. I presume this young man has apologised, and I hope that at some point in the future he will be able to make a contribution to the political landscape.

11:25 am, April 12, 2010


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