Thursday, April 23, 2009

#budget: the twitter-tariat

While the budget itself was pretty much leaked and spun to death for the week prior to it being delivered to the house and so most of the supposition aired, what I thought would be interesting is to see how new media facilitated greater input. The current fad (or revolution) depending on your take is Twitter. The use of the hashtag allows for anyone to join a debate and express their views in 140 characters. You can argue that allows for little that is profound, quite true, but it does allow short statements and the sharing of links so not entirely a waste of time and something unable to facilitate expression.
So what did the contributors to #budget contribute. Firstly, much are links to media or party comments, and this is not surprising given the paucity of space, or the amount of comment appearing on the day. Many are asking questions, so linking into and starting person-to-person conversations - 'anyone gain' was a favourite. In terms of tone, while there seems no party political bias from the majority of users, most who comment on specifics comment on the negative parts - either it does not help the poor enough, or that a tax on 'fun' has been introduced etc. This suggests that few are willing to explicitly make positive comments, or perhaps see positives in the government's handling of the economy - in other words it may reflect a human condition of the glass being half full or a global negative attitude towards Labour. The final point is those that use Twitter for party political purposes act, expectedly, as cheerleaders for their parties and leaders. So attacks on Clegg and Cameron particularly as being ineffectual or lacking substance (the two major remarks) were often rebutted.

So what does all of this suggest? Well there is an independent voice emerging on Twitter, however much is lead by mainstream media and the party line; so there is a lot of publicising other's arguments (usually established commentators) or defending or promoting your own party. Some within that are linking to their own blogs but these are in a minority outside of the main media commentators. For a range of unknown reasons, the temperature of the debate was anti-Labour in terms of presenting a predominantly negative take. However a small minority did ask questions and sought engagement with others via Twitter.

There was also a sense of ennui and not expecting anything good to come of it in both the comments prior to and reflecting on the budget. There was a lot of powerlessness in the tone suggesting, as one Twitterer put it, "I've been shat on, I knew it was coming but couldn't dodge it". My favourite by the way: "digitaltoast: Spoilt for choice if I want to watch pompous twats failing at playing with money tonight: #Apprentice or #budget news?" Perhaps this summed up a general mood of anti-politicians as some did comment that they all said little of substance to the wider audience but were instead locked into point scoring.

An interesting insight into the politically engaged online 'activist', active in terms of sharing comments and giving voice to a range of social groups. One wonders how important such tools will become as a barometer of opinion in the future, sidelining the media as a reflection of public opinion.

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