How Twitter challenges right-wing dominance online


3:56 pm - August 17th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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If there was one important point to note about Hannan-gate last week, it was that right-wingers had little or no opportunity to re-shape or hit back at developments in the media. The row started off as a broad defense of the NHS (#welovetheNHS) and some broadcasters (notably Channel 4) went down the route of ignoring Dan Hannan MEP initially and focusing on attacks by the American right on the NHS.

But by Friday afternoon and the weekend he became the central focus and the Tories were very badly on the defensive. By this point the libertarians and Tories who had previously tried to ignore the growing noise gave in and started whining that people were ignoring the issues while only focusing on personality. This is typical from from bloggers who spend half their time rating MPs on their performance at PM’s Questions. But what did you expect? They start accusing others of being ‘Stalinist’ while saying they want a ‘sensible discussion’.

But a new precedent has been set and you’ll see right-wingers increasingly (and desperately) trying to change the narrative and pretend all this wasn’t a big deal.

But everyone could see that the poster-boy of the new Tories had been shot down by people-power on Twitter. The Labour party was left scrambling to play catch-up and capitalise while the Conservatives issued one denial after another to prevent the fall-out becoming massive.

There has been a long-running narrative pushed by the UK right that they are dominant online. This has a grain of truth because they have more resources, more time and are focused much more on Westminster politics. And of course they’ve been in opposition for ten years and are angry so it’s easier to vent that at the highly disciplined right-wing sites

But the emergence of Twitter challenges all this and works better for the left because people don’t need lots of resources to make themselves heard. They don’t need to maintain big blogs full time – they can simply join an online network with very little barriers to entry. Thats means a grassroots campaign like #welovetheNHS can become big without needing lots of effort.

Furthermore, Twitter affects journalists and politicians differently too. Whereas previously the Westminster bubble would only look at a few Tory blogs and get talking points from them – in Twitter they’re exposed to a wider range of opinion. This means Guido and Dale aren’t the only people getting heard.

They know this, and this is why they’re now in damage-limitation mode. If you look at this by Guido and this by Iain Dale – these are both attempts to turn around the narrative and re-assert their dominance. We have more followers on Twitter and more blog visitors so people should only listen to us. Ignore all this hoo-haa – they say.

But as I said the precedent has been set and there’s no going back. The near monopoly of the right to shape opinion online has been broken.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


I think this article badly misses the point. #welovethenhs wasn’t owned by the left or the right, but by non-aligned people. Subsequent attempts by Labour to claim ownership over it have looked shabby.

Or rather, because us libertarian folk have more than 140 characters to say, so developed our arguments are. 😮

#welovethenhs wasn’t owned by the left or the right, but by non-aligned people. Subsequent attempts by Labour to claim ownership over it have looked shabby.

But you’re conflating the left with Labour. I also thought Labour’s attempts to jump on the bandwagon were a bit annoying, but to a certain extent they can take some credit for pumping a whole bunch of money into the service in a way the Tories would never have.

That aside – my point is that Twitter makes it easier to give voice to lefties who cannot develop or have the resources to develop big blogging platforms.

Thomas – heh. but you’ll find that lefties are far more wordier that libertarians.

It could be that the NHS lovin’ twitterlefties have real jobs (in the non-political sector) and real private lives, and therefore lack the time to write thousands of words each day on the evils of the state. You could call them, oh I dunno, a silent majority, perhaps?

5. Adele Camps

Doesn’t the ease and immediacy of using Twitter mean that people can jump on any political bandwagon without genuinely committing to an opinion? Anyone can see something tweeted, vaguely think they agree without knowing much at all about the situation and hit re-tweet. If they have an inkling that #welovetheNHS will become a trending topic then they might even do it just to appear in the search.This isn’t necessarily giving a meaningful voice to the left or to anyone for the matter. It seems to just raise the potential for pseudo-political cyber-babble.

But you’re conflating the left with Labour.

And you’re conflating the left with *everyone* who doesn’t identify themselves as being rightwing.

A while ago, Sunny, you left an unanswered question on the end of an entry on the notion of how best to utilise technology for the better, and for the left. When you say;

“Twitter challenges all this [online right wing dominance] and works better for the left because people don’t need lots of resources to make themselves heard”

Bit by bit you have started to answer this question.

Just how influential is Twitter? I’ve never felt the urge to make use of the service myself, is it something that lots of people outside of the media or techy bubble use?

It wasn’t that big a bandwagon.

Agree that the game has changed. In an ironic sense both Iain Dale and Guido are old New Media now. Twitter really is the future and will play a big part in the coming general election…

I don’t think that #welovethenhs was of the left in the end. That was the joy of it. But you are right that it prospered because it was grassroots. Interesting to see the tweets from politicians of course, just as those by other celebs, but it was the fact that people who often do not engage in political debate felt motivated to share their own views and experiences, and demonstrate clearly that the European sense that healthcare is a right, not a commodity to be purshased.

Fear is of course that the last week’s manning of the barricades against the stupidity coming out of the American right regarding the NHS means that we won’t be able to have an interesting and important re-examination of the NHS here. That’s something we need to be able to do as a mature democracy, no matter what political persuasion we come from.

Since when does it take “resources” to run a blog? I don’t know what LibCon’s budget is, but my blog – far, far smaller, obviously – costs exactly zero. Blogs don’t cost anything – that’s the point.

I suppose Twitter is yet more democratic in the limited sense that you can devote far less time and resources to it than a full-time blog. But that is also a limitation of the medium. In 140 characters, the amount of information or commentary that you can provide is almost zero.

Reducing the debate about the NHS – such as it is (is anyone actually debating the future of the NHS?) to a binary equation – love it or not love it – may make column inches but as a medium for debate it’s even more stultifying than the comments at Guido’s. What’s next? #welovetheMoD? Give me a break.

Well done to whoever was behind #welovethenhs, because it went viral very fast – but our campaign to “bar” Alistair Darling from every pub in Britain made it to PMQs within 48 hours. Last I heard, though, beer was still being taxed to the hilt.

Time is money, Mr E.

Yes, sure, but the fact remains that plenty of people are able to combine their jobs with blogging. There are plenty of blogging doctors, for example – Crippen – or lawyers – David T at Harry’s Place, Tom Paine, no doubt loads of others – these guys work hard and blog at the same time. The same is true of posters here, not least Sunny.

It’s simply not the case that blogging needs to impinge on your professional life. Certainly there will be times when you have to make a trade-off and the blog will lose out; certainly some people blog from work and might well get in a bit of trouble with their employers if their online identities were rumbled. But that doesn’t mean that people need “resources” to blog. In as far as time is money, in fact, you could argue that a council worker who gets to leave work at 5pm on the dot every day is rather better equipped to run a successful blog than a lawyer who has to work till 7:30.

But let’s put it this way. For the past two or three years, it’s been the conceit of the big right-wing blogs that the Left are not at the races when it comes to the blogosphere, that no-one [relatively speaking] reads lefty blogs. That’s partly because it’s in their interests to make that claim, and partly because they tend to read blogs within their own echo-chamber of the right (does anyone read Donal Blaney or Shane Greer except Iain Dale?).

But lefties have fought this stereotype. Bullshit, they say. The left online is vibrant and flourishing. Now you turn round and say, thank God for Twitter, because it enables ordinary people to challenge the stranglehold that the right seem to have on the blogosphere.

Which is it?

Mr E – it takes a lot of time and resources to maintain a big operation like ConservativeHome. No other party has been influenced y resources thrown at such a targetted operation.

You run yours on blogspot. But a site like this now eats up a lot of resources, especially if I get a boost of traffic (slows site down or takes it out) because I have to rent a private server now.

On other points – I accept the campaign started off as quite apolitical. But it’s not difficult to see how it quickly followed partisan lines, with most lefties writing to support it and most right-wingers either ignoring or starting an anti-NHS campaign.

Will it change Westminster? No. But it challenges the view that Tories are dominant online and that you can only find them.

Yeah but…

Twitter still sucks ass: http://danielhg.blogspot.com/2009/04/twitter-sucks-ass.html and loads of people don’t read blogs, use twatter or fuck about on the Internet at all.

If Twunter is a key tool in challenging right-wing dominance on teh Interwebs then we’re all fucked.

And most people don’t know who Iain Dale or Guido Fat-Fucks are.

Thank Christ…

Hilarious. This from a man who is so convinced by Twitter and its ability to communicate that he protects his Twitter status, follows 8 people and has 26 followers. You really do have to laugh, don’t you.

Perhaps he’s more selective than you Dale…

Dale and Montgomerie have come out of this looking like the winy titty ass cry babies that they are.

No one throws their toys out of the pram like the Right wing if it does not get what it wants. They like to boast about how superior the Right wing media is. But it is all lies. To have Montgomerie calling for a Murdoch journalist to be sacked because he wrote nasty things about Hannan is priceless. But the Right does not do irony, so he will not see the ludicrous nature of his demand.

We should remember the next time Montgomerie is crayoning another one of his Neo Con pieces about the superiority of Western civilisation, and the freedom of the press that he was calling for a Murdoch journalist to be removed because he did not like what he wrote. How very similar to a tin pot dictator you are Tim.

As for Dale, it is the dam right dishonest nature of his whining that gets me. He wants to pretend that he and the Conservatives support the NHS, but he whines that we can’t have sensible debate about how to destroy it. Typical whiny Tory. Lets all pretend that we like the NHS but all the time lets propagandise for its destruction. And he has the nerve to attack the dishonesty of the left.

But then if his appearance on News night last week is anything to go by his arrogance and pomposity gets worse by the day. The way he attacked, in his usual patronising manner the guy who had exposed Alan Duncan was right of the vomit inducing section. Poor little Dale thought it was soooooo mean to be nasty to poor little Alan. Don’t seem to remember Dale having a problem with Guido and some of his methods when they go after Labour supporters.

21. Shatterface

‘That aside – my point is that Twitter makes it easier to give voice to lefties who cannot develop or have the resources to develop big blogging platforms.’

Um, I thought BLOGGING was giving the Left a voice in a media dominated by big business. Or was that last year?

20 –

Hilarious. This from a man who is so convinced by Twitter and its ability to communicate that he protects his Twitter status, follows 8 people and has 26 followers. You really do have to laugh, don’t you.

Though not unusual for a Tory blogger to pick and choose their particular source – I am a bit surprised that you didn’t pick the lesser of the 3 results I turned up.

3 followers · updated 6:47 AM Jun 30th

Yet if we take the highest of the 3 we get:

1,025 followers · from London · updated about 3 hours ago

The one you chose was:

8 Following 26 Followers; 26 followers · from Canada · updated about 14 hours ago

Now – if I am not mistaken – Sunny comes from London and not Canada.

Or is that a deliberate misinformation from a Tory blogger, Mr Dale?

25 – Shatter

Um, I thought BLOGGING was giving the Left a voice in a media dominated by big business. Or was that last year?

Not last year at all – what is hindering ‘left-wing’ blogging is the tits in the ‘left-wing’ press who are carping on about how ‘bloggers’ are not ‘proper’ journos so should really be ignored.

If you get one spot on a right-wing press release you get a few thousand hits – Guido and Dale are mentioned in dispatches quite a lot, hence they can have the influence they crave (hit-counter whores). Good old Guido gives his readers a regular update on how his hidden state counter registers new, unique visitors Vs those who are regular readers.

The stat counter is up on the top right-hand side next to the main banner if anyone is interested. Why he has to hide it I don’t know. But that is up to him – his blog – his rules.

Dale’s blog I have no idea about – I cannot read such vile shit.

Does Derek Draper do Twitter?

@will rhodes, 26: Yep, that’s what I get too. I suspect Dale hasn’t mastered the mysterious word breaking tool known as ‘the space bar’…

IAIN DALE FAIL!

Oh yes daniel, I think we have just witnessed the birth of a meme: The DALE.

EPIC DALE!

I’m with you Neil, even if it is just us that uses it!

29. Charlieman

Sunny: “And of course they’ve been in opposition for ten years and are angry so it’s easier to vent that at the highly disciplined right-wing sites”

I suspect that the majority of liberal lefty readers here have been “in opposition” for ten years.

I suspect that the majority of liberal lefty readers here have been “in opposition” for ten years.

Heh

Iain Dale. Oh man. Do you ever think before you type?

Question – how do we know that’s the real Iain Dale? After all, I could easily put sunny or sunder on my name and change my website address and make up some isht that they could say.

Anyway, onto my main point. Highlighted by Guido the other day and you link to it. As of last Friday, #welovetheNHS had around 12,000 unique users (more people visits Guido per day than that). The ‘resign’ petition has nearly 70,000 signatures, and Dan Hannan’s ‘devalued PM’ video has 2.5 million views.

Ok, perhaps #welovetheNHS is a high point in the Left’s internet lifetime, but it’s still wayyyy behind the right-wing achievements.

Ok, perhaps #welovetheNHS is a high point in the Left’s internet lifetime, but it’s still wayyyy behind the right-wing achievements.

But welovetheNHS was a spontaneous and individualistic campaign. Half of Guido’s audience are a bunch of wingnuts (have you seen the comment threads?) and a significant proportion read it just to keep a tab on what he’s saying. Doesn’t mean he influences or engages them. The engagement of 120,000 people spontaneously (and I don’t trust Guido on those figures anyway) is a much bigger achievement.
As for Hannan’s video hits – most of those came from Drudge and Rush Limbaugh. And the only charitable thing that can be said about that audience is that… they’re on par with Guido’s commenters.

Epic Dale!

I like it.

Neil, Daniel, even if it’s only the three of us, I don’t care.

Re the OP, good article.

I am all excited about UK politics in a way I haven’t been for a while. I think the Tories may *really* have hurt themselves this week. I still think they’ll win 2010…but the majority could be nothing like the nightmare predictions of yester-month.

And the lower the Tory majority, the more the nasty underbelly turns on Dave. And the sooner they destroy themselves.

Fingers crossed, but things just got a whole lot more interesting.

34. Peter Jukes

There are huge start up costs of time, traffic and publicity to get a well attended blog. Guido and Dale dominated in the early years of insider gossip and ad personam smears (like Dale’s one above), but they do little to do discuss policy or ideas, and often seem like audition spaces for Top Gear of HIGNFY.

Twitter is an effective tool for one off campaigns (see Iran election) and a wider dispersal of ideas beyond the diehard digerati. And yes, compressing everything into 140 characters might seem trite, but I wish many bloggers would try it – just for precision’s sake.

As one Iranian tweet put it: 140 words seems like a novel when you’re being shot at

Anyway, onto my main point. Highlighted by Guido the other day and you link to it. As of last Friday, #welovetheNHS had around 12,000 unique users (more people visits Guido per day than that). The ‘resign’ petition has nearly 70,000 signatures, and Dan Hannan’s ‘devalued PM’ video has 2.5 million views.

.

I’m left of left, I watched Hannan’s video and have signed the resign petition as well, does that now make me a right-winger?

Good on Guido for getting so many hits – but what the fuck? Guido, in your eyes is now a right-wing spokesperson – have you asked him about that? I’m sure he would like to know. I have read his site for months – again, does that make me a right-winger?

Ok, perhaps #welovetheNHS is a high point in the Left’s internet lifetime, but it’s still wayyyy behind the right-wing achievements.

What achievements?

“What achievements?”

Well, McCain won the US election, Global Warming has stopped, oh and of course the rightosphere’s huge collective expertise, quick wits and mastery of these new information networks helped us avert the worst financial crisis in eighty years.

They haven’t just spent the last decade doggedly chasing endless McGuffins to the detriment of any actual plot, pining for the cold war, or generating a quarter of a million words per week on the subject of what they’d do to Polly Toynbee were they locked in a room with her.

Oh no.

The right bloggers are effective.

37. Mitchell Stirling

Guido’s sleuthing on that post falls down slightly if you look at the Twitter’s own site not the one he’s used (that I’ve never heard of). I didn’t believe that another hastag, #followfriday, could only have 15,000 tweets on Friday by 7pm BST. This is what the site he is using (what the hashtag) said.

At that time they were going through a rate of 250/300 a minute via Twitter’s search.

#WeloveTheNHS was also going along, well past it’s peak of the Wednesday, at around 50 a minute. So had probably been tweeted, be it repeats, spam or whatever, around 250,000-300,000 times by the end of Friday.

I mentioned this at the time but I can only assume it was deleted as I submitted it anonymously (unlike all the other real people that comment there).

What’s made the biggest impact on me is the idea that rather than just acting like a catalyst, Twitter made this news. It owes its wide existence to the magnificent twitter, and that’s what shows the site’s muscle.

Hit the nail on the head with the point that few resources are needed. Twitter is the epitome of the online proletariat.

PS: Guido managed to link damage limitation to tooting his own horn… impressive.

Sunny, I think you might be overestimating the importance of “online dominance” in the first place. Unless it can be turned into votes, it’s pretty much just a load of blokes (and it usually is blokes) bumping their gums. Example…

I think it’s fair to say that a) libertarianism in the UK is largely an internet phenomenon and that b) a lot of the biggest right wing sites are libertarian. How’s that internet-based campaign for a sci-fi, untaxed Valhalla in the UK going?

Norwich North By Election Result

Tories 13,591
Labour 6,243
Lib Dem 4,803
UKIP 4,068
Monster Raving Loony 144
Libertarian 36

Analysis – Stop! This internet-based revolution is not ready yet! It needs at least five more blog posts about how Gordon Brown has one eye and how smoking bans are literally a Gestapo attack on liberty itself!

Conclusion – The internet – excellent for those aiming to cram roughly 100,000 angry wingnuts into a minature online Death Star then send it careering around cyberspace zapping Polly Toynbee columns; less good at delivering electoral advantage.

In short, there’s (charitably) between 100 and 150 thousand right wingers banging around the various right wing blogs and all of them are going to vote Tory, UKIP or BNP anyway. The main achievement of blogs is to ensure that the lot of them can bore the piss out of their mates with tedious free market doctrine afterwards.

Lessons there for wannabe online activists, I think.

Can’t actually disagree with too much of the above.

Gordon Brown only has one eye, you say? That gives me an idea for a blog post…

EPIC DALE!

42. Peter Jukes

@ flying rodent

Your comment has the rare distinction of being funny, vivid and right. My only question:

Is the internet therefore quite a useful care-in-the-community echo chamber for the libertarian wingnuts? i.e. keeping them feeling powerful but actually dooming them to irrelevance, a bit like the US academic left in the 80s?

Or could they still use their dominance online (and seven out of ten people I encounter even on labour or liberal sites are libertarian loons) to eventually activate a larger base, just like the left blogosphere did during the Obama campaign?

Or could they still use their dominance online (and seven out of ten people I encounter even on labour or liberal sites are libertarian loons) to eventually activate a larger base, just like the left blogosphere did during the Obama campaign?

FR is amusingly right about libertarians of course but the net is the obvious and natural place for libertarian thought to develop. It is a response to the growth of the orthodoxy of the state and the political system that supports it- it is a reaction to the well meant authoritarianism we have endured for the last twelve years.

Libertarianism will always be a minority creed (the politicians pander to the majority preference for security over individual liberty) so the most that can be hoped for is that libertarian thought and protest can in some way influence those who aspire to rule us.

Until then, it makes some people feel better about their enslavement to know that there are others who have the courage to suggest revolt, even if it’s only virtual revolt.

“it makes some people feel better about their enslavement”

May I humbly suggest it might be more productive for them to gain a sense of fucking perspective?

Hear hear Neil!

I think you might be overestimating the importance of “online dominance” in the first place. Unless it can be turned into votes, it’s pretty much just a load of blokes (and it usually is blokes) bumping their gums

Oh I don’t disagree, but this online chatter certainly has an impact on the national media. My point is only that the chatter was earlier dominated by right-wingers and now some balance has been restored.

Balderdash

May I humbly suggest it might be more productive for them to gain a sense of fucking perspective?

OK point taken- perhaps a little over rhetorical ! ! !

But if you doubt that a lot of real people get very angry indeed about being told how to live their lives by a bunch of self-promoting, self-serving dickheads there are a few websites you need to read.

DHG

Are you wearing a short skirt and waving some pompoms?

“But if you doubt that a lot of real people get very angry indeed about being told how to live their lives by a bunch of self-promoting, self-serving dickheads there are a few websites you need to read.”

Agreed – http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23welovetheNHS is one of them.

pagar:

No, I’m waiting outside your house with an air rifle and I’ve taken your kids hostage.

😉

51. Charlieman

Strong and vocal UK libertarian presence on the ‘net? Isn’t that inevitable given that real world UK libertarians are a rare species, and even in London it is difficult for them to rustle up the numbers for a decent pub outing. I’m pleased for them that the internet provides the opportunity to communicate with one another, and sometimes I welcome their intervention in civil liberties and “state decency” debates. I simply wish that they understood when they are being used by illiberal forces.

The size of the Paul Staines commentariat is no indication of libertarian popularity, just a reflection of how many socially disaffected and disconnected right wingers there are.

Alas, I rate the opinion of #welovetheNHS Twitterers with the same value as the people who signed the Downing Street petition against motoring speed cameras. And the Twitterers would have much preferred to acknowledge #HannanIsA****, had Twitter permitted the tag.

It is easy to get a gut reaction against something (eg Hannan) and much more difficult to get people to do something positive. How do you get the thousands of people who love the NHS involved in anything? Do you reckon anyone joined a trade union as a result of the Twitterfest? Come on, we are in the media silly season with little serious politics in the news, and people need something to get upset about. We’ll have forgotten about this in eight months.

Then, of course, it will be a good time to resurrect the Hannan interview to remind the good voters about how awful the Tories still are.

No, I’m waiting outside your house with an air rifle and I’ve taken your kids hostage.

If you’ve got my daughter I wish you luck, mate.

Well, I am a trained youth worker.

And the taking the kids hostage is an old Alan Partridge gag.


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