The Gist: Storms in a Tweetcup
They're poised to inherit Fianna Fáil's earth and have been enjoying the sunny uplands of the polls since the election. But lately, SF have been having no craic with Twitter.
Sinn Féin haven’t been having a great time of it with the tweets for a few weeks. One of the most valuable bits of real estate for the leading party of the opposition is the Chair of the powerful Public Accounts Committee.
Sinn Féin’s occupier of that chair, Brian Stanley TD, decided to opine on matters historical on the 28th Nov before deleting his tweet and apologising for it as “an inappropriate and insensitive tweet”.
By the 3rd Dec, he’d decided it was safest to just delete his whole account, and his Facebook one too for good measure. This was after an eight year old tweet referring to the election of the new Fine Gael leader was found:
“Yippee 4 d tory. it's Leo. U can do what u like in bed but don't look 4 a pay rise the next morning.”
Before we move on, let us spare a moment for the spent husk of a Government staffer who was tasked to read eight years of tweets to find the basis of a follow up story.
But what is telling is Mr. Stanley’s wounded statement which followed;
Tweets are shorthand, and we're not as good at it
Who’s the ‘we’ there? Sinn Féin? They’re recognised to have the most active and engaged social media presence of all the parties, albeit one which is probably actively counter-productive to their image.
Maybe he just meant people like him? You know, TDs.
Some people who are also TDs are the Fianna Fáil backbenchers. Every week they have a parliamentary meeting whose minutes are livetweeted, to the apparent frustration of the party leadership. The fact that the party leadership showing this frustration is what fuels the leaks doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.
Anyway, as Fianna Fáil bobs dangerously close to single digits in poll numbers, the TDs have settled on what’s wrong- “Our social media presence is appalling”. “The party needs to be better at social media”
But just as Mr. Stanley’s problems with tweets are unlikely to see Sinn Féin’s position dented in future polls, so a social media overhaul of Fianna Fáil will similarly do nothing to lift its fortunes.
Saying that isn’t to endorse the much touted (and deeply dumb) assertion ‘Twitter isn’t real life’. Twitter is a reflection of real life- just as a golf clubhouse, a GAA clubhouse and a nightclub are each different reflections of real life. They give expression to an aspect of public opinion. But Twitter has also become a broadcast system for official actors (hence the livetweets of the FF meetings).
Politicians are used to broadcast media- that’s what most of them have trained to use for decades.
But a broadcast medium that is also an archive of all the dumb things we’ve ever said in passing and a two-way communications system? As Mr. Stanley realised as he deleted his account, “we’re not as good at it.”
Meanwhile, the Government moves forward on laws to regulate citizen’s use of the internet and creating a crime of making an internet post that “causes alarm or distress to the other person”.
This points to a crunch happening from the middle of next year, when people who are self-confessedly bad at understanding and using the communication elements of social media will try to draw up rules that will restrict a good chunk of the world’s usage of it.
Ireland’s biggest Twitter-storm is yet to land.