Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Beware of people you trust on Twitter

In media training sessions I commonly use a quote attributed to Mark Twain: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes". It is designed to illustrate the way the media world works - they are far more likely to deal in tittle tattle and gossip than fact.

Now we all deal in tittle tattle. We grab hold of it and pass it on to our 'friends' in an instant through social media. Yesterday morning I saw a fantastic example of the speed and power of social media as I was scanning the news, via Twitter, as I do every morning on my way to my first meeting of the day.

Guido Fawkes had tweeted a few seconds earlier, "just found the easiest way to track who follows and unfollows you" which was followed by an internet link. I thought that looks quite good fun, and the traffic wasn't moving, so I followed the link. Something, I don't know what, stopped me from giving over my password to this site and finding out who had recently joined/left my list of Twitter friends.

So I exited this site and went back to Twitter, and found Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome and Spectator editor Fraser Nelson had also posted  "just found the easiest way to track who follows and unfollows you" which was followed by the same link.
So, in a matter of seconds, this link had been sent by Guido Fawkes to over 20,000 people, Jonathan Isaby to 3,368 and Fraser Nelson to 8,500. I'm not ridiculing them, but using them as examples of how quickly social media moves things. There will have been thousands of people who entered their password yesterday morning, theses three are just the most influential opinion formers in the political blogging world to do so.

With social media there is an element of trust that your 'friend' is passing on something good, relevant, interesting or entertaining. That's why I follow these three as they invariably do. What is so unbelievable is that so many businesses simply don't understand the power of the new media in a way that NGOs and political parties have grasped.

Powerful opinion leaders like Guido, Isaby and Fraser can be used as ambassadors to build alliances and set trends. Currently the left wing writer and broadcaster Johann Hari is doing this with the UK Uncut campaign. You can mobilise activists, pass on information, debate issues all without ever meeting.      
News and comment now comes at us in a relentless stream of information. When I have finished writing this blog in a moment I will post it via Twitter and Facebook to the world. It then becomes a very small part of an ongoing conversation the world is having with itself. The news cycle no longer exists - it is now a news and information stream that we dip in and dip out of. We just need to make sure we don't always click on that link - however tempting it may look.    

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