twitter MPs

It’s pretty safe to say that it isn’t too often that The European Convention on Human Rights, originally set out in 1950, isn’t something that gets cited too often in casual debates around freedom of expression. Yet two particular articles sit at the heart of many debates surrounding the press and, arguably, in many debates around our society in general.

Article 8 states:

“everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

A simple sentiment, but one which sits at the core of the spate of recent super injunction cases and which is frequently winning arguments in court. The sentiment is one which few would realistically argue with; we all have a right to privacy, an essential aspect of a truly free society.

Key to the discussion around super injunctions is the interpretation of this right to privacy as the right to a protection of reputation.

Reputations are legally perceived to have a monetary value and, as dictated by legal precedent in the UK courts, everyone starts with a good reputation – unless proven otherwise. This idea sits at the heart of defamation rulings, the idea that the unfair tarnishing of someone’s reputation can have a negative effect on their potential income.

And yet all too often this idea is emphatically contradicted by the opening line in Article 10 of the same convention:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression”.


Essentially, everyone has the right to say what they want, when they want to – and if that is damaging to someone else’s reputation, so be it.

With two such contradictory statements at the heart of super injunctions and defamation rulings, it’s easy to see why cases can last for years following the original comments and/or story.

Nevertheless Article 8 has dominated proceedings in recent years, and a key reason for this is Mr. Justice Eady. If you don’t know Mr. Justice Eady, he is a UK judge frequently appointed to high profile defamation cases.

Numerous publishers have bones to pick with him and it’s rumored that champagne corks were being popped around Fleet Street (metaphorically speaking, at least) when he announced that he was standing down, and it looks as though his replacement might be somewhat more liberal towards freedom of expression, meaning we could see some change in precedence over the coming years.

The phrase “in the public interest” is frequently bandied about in defamation cases. This is the happy compromise between the two articles; you can only impact on someone’s reputation if it’s in the public interest.

So while it might not be in the public interest to know that Princess Caroline of Monaco goes out to dinner with her kids, (unsurprisingly, she received compensation over photographs published of just this), but that it might be good for the public to know about the less-than-wholesome life Tommy Sheridan (then an MSP) was leading; a case which only gets more extraordinary the more you hear about it.

Reeling out 17 witnesses, Sheridan initially won damages from the News of the World over claims that he was visiting an illicit club; five years on and he’s serving jail time for perjury, though one suspects we haven’t heard the last of it yet.

However, the “public interest” argument is also a pretty flimsy and arbitrary compromise which represents the only middle ground between the two. It’s frequently sullied by the press stretching the definition of public interest to, say, knowing that a premier league footballer had relations with someone they shouldn’t have.

It’s also quickly worth mentioning the increasingly prominent trend for “Libel Tourism”, wherein cases can be brought about in territories which have no bearing on the original comments or participants. This, as you may have guessed, is because the internet is ubiquitous and as such as long as you can prove that a comment made in America has been seen in the UK, then proceedings can be pressed in UK Courts – as seen with King vs. Lewis in 2004. Article 8 makes it easier to win damages in defamation cases (and to win super injunctions) in the UK than it does in the US, meaning that this is a trend which isn’t going anywhere.

This has interesting implications for PRs and the use of social media, as it’s increasingly becoming vital to ensure that social media policies are rigid and right, and to ensure that you watch what you say on social networks – either by yourself or on behalf of a client.

Article 8 is currently winning over Article 10 in the UK, so while you’re free to express yourself, you basically can’t express yourself too much. Or something like that. Even if only one person sees a defamatory comment it could be prosecuted.

It’s also worth remembering that Clients taking legal action in order to protect their reputation isn’t always A Great Thing. In fact, it’s pretty much very rare to see any real benefit. See McLibel, which ultimately had a damaging effect on McDonald’s brand. Looking at the reasons that McDonalds originally took action it could be argued that the head honchos at Google would be within their rights to consider similar action against Facebook and BM, yet I believe they are intelligent and perceptive enough not to.

The interpretation of these two articles sits at the heart of one of the key debates around the media at the moment; it’s important that as PR practitioners we fully understand what they stand for.




UK Times journalist Rod Liddle can barely hide is contempt for Twitter and its proponents who claim to be “changing the World in 140 characters”.  Liddle is referring to the uncompromising (sometimes pompous) pronouncements made by politicians to various leaders of the Libyan government:
• “My message to Saif Qadhafi today: violence we are seeing against the Libyan people is unacceptable” (@WilliamJHague; UK Foreign Minister) 
“Great honour to Egypt today. People Power has forced regime change. Needs equal focus and discipline to bring in something better” (@DMiliband; ex UK Foreign Minister)

Given that these messages appear aimed directly at the regime of another country; I wonder if Twitter is the most appropriate medium. 

“I tried to see if ol’ Saif had responded online to this stinging rebuke — perhaps with an ‘Oh, bugger me, you’re quite right, William — we’ll call off the bombings and relinquish power immediately’. But no luck. Saif probably tweets under a different name,” muses Liddle of Hague´s message.

“ . . one assumes the bloodied and determined Egyptian democrats stopped in their tracks at this important missive and immediately gathered together to thrash out a more disciplined and focused approach to social change. Thank you, David — valuable advice. Please go on,” he adds with respect to Milliband´s words of encouragement. 

In the most blatant example of ‘bigging up’ the medium, Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United and England football captain, claimed that he and other Twitter users “are involved (if not directly)in a powerful #movement ! …” (@rioferdy5).

With all due respect Rio . . . . we are not. We are simply exchanging opinions on football, the state of your back injury, Man Yoo’s failed attempt to rebuff a rejuvenated Liverpool FC this weekend, quite how Ferguson continues to flout broadcast regulations, and how he is turning into Kevin The Teenager.

And here is the shame . . . . As a social media platform Twitter can provide a valuable and unique support for those looking to deliver the most sensitive message to the most specific of audiences; the key is that Twitter not just about the Tweet.

The Twitter platform can provide a wealth of information about a particular audience, where it meets, what subjects it cares about, with what frequency and style it communicates, who are the idea starters, who are the amplifiers.  It can also provide this level of detail about a subject or theme; who is leading the discussion, do these people remain constant or does leadership vary over time or cyclically, on what other platforms are these themes addressed (traditional media, blogs, other communities, physical meetings etc)?  Tools such as Edelman’s TweetLevel can deliver analysis by audience or theme, level of engagement, the trust or authority associated with each contributor, all of which can be broken down on the basis of geography or language.

This powerful insight can be delivered without the necessity of making a single Tweet.  The shame being that for many – from Rod Liddle to Rio Ferdinand – Twitter simply means Tweeting. 

And this misapprehension gives social media in general a bad name because it assumes that – in the final analysis – everything can and should be broken down to 140 characters; which is really missing the point. 

In some instances Twitter may be the most appropriate medium on which to communicate or participate in dialogue with a given audience; but in others it is wholly inappropriate.  Perhaps discreet diplomatic channels would have been more appropriate method of influencing the Libyan regime (telephone calls, summits, relationship meetings, official (confidential) memos etc).  Government to government communication via Twitter just seems wrong in this context.

However, the insight that platforms such as Twitter can provide into a target audience or theme remains both invaluable but all too often neglected.   This analysis should help define how a given message can be credibly delivered whether through face to face meetings, traditional media, telephone calls, roundtables, third party events, blogs, conferences, or – indeed – a Twitter feed. 

A final word to those Twitter incontinents out there; to “use Twitter” does not necessarily mean to “Tweet”.


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This morning we hosted a Social Entertainment breakfast where we launched the findings of Edelman’s fourth annual Trust in the Entertainment Industry survey.

Gail Becker, President of Edelman’s Western region, presented the results and was joined on a panel by Matt Locke – Acting Head of Crossplatform at Channel 4, Maz Nadjm – Online Community Product Manager at BSkyB and Tom Watson – Labour MP. The Naked Pheasant himself, Mr Hargreaves, did a sterling job in chairing the proceedings.

Of course, given we’re all about PR we thought we’d also put together a press release of the key findings, which we’ve shoved at the bottom here.

During the day we’ll be sharing the presentation and some insight from the panelists, so watch this space.

Study reveals shift as Social Networks become “Social Entertainment”

  • Internet is second only to TV as a frequent “source of entertainment”
  • Study reveals consumers in UK and US recognise social networks as entertainment

Research launched today by Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR agency, shows that consumers believe social networks provide a higher value experience compared with other forms of entertainment.  Edelman’s annual Trust in the Entertainment Industry survey, now in its fourth year, also reveals that the internet, as a source of entertainment, is second only to television. The survey of 1,000 18-54 year olds in the United States and United Kingdom analyses the issues that influence consumer trust in entertainment companies.

In the US, the rise of the internet as a frequent source of entertainment is most dramatic in the 18-34 group, rising from 27 percent in 2009 to 42 percent in 2010.   In the US, 32 percent of 18-54 year olds look most frequently to the web for entertainment (compared with 58 percent watching TV).  The internet also ranked second in the UK, with 30 percent turning to the web most frequently, compared with 57 percent watching TV.

Social Entertainment

Seventy-three percent of 18-24 year olds in the US and 61 percent in the UK see social networks as a form of entertainment.  Fifty percent (US) and 56 percent (UK) of respondents aged 35-49 also consider social networking sites as a form of entertainment.  Despite the growth of social entertainment, consumers do not currently identify Internet brands as entertainment companies.

Whilst social networking sites may not yet be recognised as entertainment companies, they are leading the way in terms of adding value to the consumer experience of entertainment.  The majority of respondents in both the UK and US felt that social networking sites provide better value than music, gaming and television companies.

Gail Becker, President of Edelman’s Western region comments, “While not surprising that TV tops the list, seeing the internet rank second as a source of entertainment  – evolving from its origins as a source of information – is significant.  We believe that all companies today exist in this new era that we call social entertainment and we will continue to see its influence on how consumers and companies engage with entertainment and with each other.”

The study also reveals consumer attitudes towards the exchange of personal information in return for free entertainment. Eighty nine percent of those in the UK say they would not be willing to give up personal information to access free entertainment.

Jonathan Hargreaves, Managing Director of Technology, Edelman, Europe adds: “The study shows that consumers do value privacy but perhaps they are not considering the personal information that they already distribute freely via social networks.  Social entertainment impacts the role of privacy – both in how individuals behave online but also in terms of how entertainment companies use customer information.   This new era has created a shift in the trust dynamic and businesses must consider the implications of this in order to nurture future trust in a brand.”

Additional key findings:

Freedom of Content
In the 2008 study, free content was the dominant issue.  This year’s study shows it is the ability to access content across devices, not cost, that is of significance to consumers.

  • 65 percent of US respondents think it is important that they are able to access their entertainment on a number of different devices
  • 59 percent of UK respondents think it is important that they are able to access their entertainment on a number of different devices
  • 58 percent (US) and 53 percent (UK) of consumers state they would be willing to pay for content if they were able to move it across devices

Spending on entertainment continues to stay strong according to this year’s results.

  • On average, US respondents spend $47 per month on entertainment content
  • On average, UK respondents spend £25 per month on entertainment content
  • 83 percent of US and 76 percent of UK consumers state that ease of purchase influences their decision to pay for content
  • In the UK consumers who think social networking is a form of entertainment are more likely to have spent more money on entertainment in the last year

Impact on Trust

  • Those that state that they trust entertainment companies are also more willing to pay for content
  • Quality  (65 percent US and 58 percent UK) and Pricing (65 percent US and 58 percent  UK) have the most impact on consumer trust
  • 32 percent of UK consumers and 28 percent of US consumers trust entertainment companies
  • Trust was at a three-year high among those aged 18-34:
2008 2009 2010
UK Trust: 31 percent 29 percent 34 percent
US Trust: 32 percent 17 percent 34 percent

Gordon Brown had hardly uttered the last syllable of the word ‘bigoted’ and already the Twitterverse was awash with Tweets about the Prime Minister’s supposed gaffe. Opposition Tweeters were gleeful in their condemnation of the PM – using tags like #bigotgate to propagate the story – while ordinary folk – yours truly included – waded in with their views in 140 characters or less. Strangely, the Labour Tweeters were – at the time of writing this post – noticeably silent. I don’t blame them to be honest.

Ignoring the rights and wrongs of the PM’s comment, this issue highlights yet again the power of Twitter in the run up to the general election. Writing in the Media Guardian on April 26th, Roy Greenslade said it was impossible to say how influential Twitter will be have come May 6th but the tone of his article suggested that Twitter would and already was having some form of influence. I agree completely.

Thanks to Twitter, I’ve found out that a former male glamour model who was kicked out of the Lib Dems for sending sexually explicit texts has been barred from standing as a Labour candidate in the election. I also know that Vince Cable has become a popular muse for musicians looking to pen a tune about installing him as Chancellor and that David Cameron can be made to look like Elvis with just a few strokes of a black marker. Marvellous.

Silliness aside, for me Twitter is making the election far more engaging. Reading endless political blog posts is dull, whereas I’ll happily read Tweets from all sides of the house. Like most people I suspect, I’d rather stick red hot pokers somewhere intimate than watch an election broadcast on TV but I’ll happily read a policy Tweet and click through to link on a party’s website. Twitter is also ace for debating with friends and randoms without getting drawn into heated debates that normally end with the line “I can’t believe you vote ***king Tory.”

The fact that I’m going to ***king vote at all is probably down to Twitter and I encourage everyone to get involved. Follow a few good (in terms of active) political Tweeters . Diversify, don’t just stick with your political allegiances and don’t be afraid to engage in debate just make sure you have something to say with your 140 characters.

And for PRs reading this, you can pick up real insight into how stories are broken and managed by following how a political story breaks and then develops within Twitter. You get a 360 view of all sides of an argument or incident and thanks to the 140 character limit, you tend to get the key information rather than the associated waffle that you get in the off-line world.

For the record, I don’t think Twitter is going to dictate who wins the general election but I do think it has allowed many more people than would previously have gotten involved in the debate to easily access and engage in the election process. So it’s definitely played a part.



The upcoming General Election has been branded ‘the social media election’, with many claiming that this is the first British Election where social media will make the difference. Although we must be careful not to overstate the importance of ‘the online debate’, the use of social media has really come to the fore and is bringing a whole new audience to politics who might not have previously engaged before. It was social media that was credited with being pivotal in the success of Barack Obama’s 2008 US election campaign. The direct connections that Obama was able to forge with voters added extra depth to an already strong candidate.

Now for the first time ever, the general public can ask party leaders questions directly via their favourite social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. People can post articles, YouTube videos and photos which can be distributed much more widely and quickly through social networking sites. Facebook and Twitter can be thanked for an increase in the number of people who have registered to vote this year.  There is even a Facebook application that allows people to write or film questions for Gordon Brown, David Cameron, or Nick Clegg. Feeling more personally connected to the party leaders is helping to break down some of the barriers that have long-existed which make people feel very separate from their politicians.

Increased transparency of information has become something that people are demanding and the web is the perfect forum to store and share what the people to demand to see. The internet presents us with an enormous wealth of information about the election and its candidates, with new widgets available for example the BBC widget that allows you to compare party policies side by side. Power has seen a shift from the party and politician’s control and that of journalist and newspapers over to the public and how well they can interact with their people via social networking sites. Now that the potential for engagement is enormous those politicians who ignore it or are less active than others do so at their own peril.


As a comms professional I’m loving the sparring that’s taking place between the Labour and Conservative parties over the issue of cutting the budget deficit.

You have to take your hat off to the Labour comms team for turning a Tory strength  – less Government spending – into a weakness in the minds of the voter, a strategy that has seen the opposition’s double digit lead cut to less than three points in some polls.

Today we’ve seen the Labour team do a political 180 on the messaging front in response to the Tory promise to partially overturn the rise in National Insurance set to come into force in 2011. They’ve gone from warning over Tory cuts damaging the economic recovery to trying to convince the public that the Tory’s are promising tax cuts that will divert funds away from cutting the deficit.

Personally, I feel this goes back somewhat on what’s been very successful anti-Tory message and allows the Tories to get their ‘tax less, spend less’ creed back onto the media agenda. However, it goes to show how agile the parties have become in reacting quickly to policy changes from either side of the house.

At Edelman’s recent Budget 2010 Breakfast Briefing, the Executive Editor of The Times Daniel Finkelstein, gave a great overview of how Labour managed to get cut through with the general public by making them worried about what they could lose due to the Tory’s proposed cost cutting strategy. I dare say Tory HQ is working on a way to get voters to appreciate what they could save under the same set of policies. It’s all fascinating stuff.

I wonder what lessons, if any, PR professionals can take from this issue and apply to their day to day work? A big takeaway for me is that nothing is sacred.I think It was a bold move for Labour to focus on de-constructing such a core pillar of Conservative messaging – and one that has served the party well even over the last 13 years in opposition, yet it’s clearly paid off. Perhaps Election 2010 will provide a case study in how to win the messaging battle around a modern election? Whatever the result, you can safely say that the comms teams will have had a major role in deciding who’s in No.10 Downing Street this Summer.

It’s had the gestation period of an elephant, but at last Jonny Bentwood – proud father that he is – has unveiled his latest baby, and it’s called TweetLevel. All babies are beautiful to their parents, of course, but not all babies are beautiful. In fact in my experience most are ugly little sods (my own being the exception, naturally).

TweetLevel has been so long in arriving – and Jonny has been banging on about it so much during the pregnancy – that a decent number of his Edelman colleagues were hoping that the geeks might have invented the next big thing by now, causing Jonny to bang his fists on his desk, hot tears of frustration spilling down his cheeks. But no.

Having said that, if you read the small print of Jonny’s post about how TweetLevel works – and the comically complicated sum that powers it – you’ll find this bit:

Twitter Lists – without a doubt this feature addition to Twitter will significantly change the influence score. Even though Twitter has released their API to us, this particular metric is not yet included.

What this basically means is: “Oh, bollocks. Twitter lists screw up the maths, but there’s no way I’m doing it again now. We’ll sodding do without.”

Hey, but look, whatever. Jonny’s done a lot of work so that TweetLevel can tell you how influential you are. And popular. And trusted.

You’re not as influential, popular and trusted as Ashton Kutcher. Frankly, you’re probably not as influential, popular and trusted as Jonny Bentwood. But don’t let it get you down. Get angry. And take TweetLevel’s advice, pull up your socks and get yourself up the rankings. It’s the path to fulfillment (possibly also unemployment).

The TweetLevel press release has done it’s best to entirely undermine the worth of the tool by claiming that based on its findings, Labour would win a landslide at the next election. It also invents the word ‘Tweetatorship’, which undermines the value of the press release.

But that really makes the point, isn’t it? You might be influential on Twitter (at least according to TweetLevel), but the Twittersphere doesn’t represent the broader population. Not anywhere near. We’ve got to keep it all in perspective, and place Twitter within the context of all the other channels of influence. Like talking to each other. And television. And…ummm…well, talking and telly at least.

The truth is, of course, that the really influential people have got more important things to do than tweet.

Oh, and this isn’t Jonny, but it is how he lives…

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