The sad thing about the Compton case: it provides another reason for politicians to fear the Internet

BCU MA Events and Exhibition Management student Sammy Williams is working on a project to encourage Birmingham’s councillors to engage more readily with citizens through social media; the Gareth Compton case is another huge hurdle for her to get over. 

That’s the really sad thing at the heart of this affair: it makes councillors more likely to shy away from what could be a useful tool for civic engagement.

I’d actually suggested to Sammy that she invite Cllr Compton to speak at an event she’s planning to launch her idea. As he’s had problems before with his Twitter persona, I thought he might have some valuable perspective to add to a conversation about social media in local politics. He could have provided a useful dollop of realism in a conversation which all too quickly drifts towards utopian idealism of openness and accountability. 

That ship has probably sailed now: Sammy’s job will be harder but she should still do it, unfortunately with Cllr Compton as a cautionary tale rather than a participant.

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Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research:

  • Dave Harte

    Sammy’s pitch to councillors should be (and I kind of told her this): ‘don’t run your own account, let me do it. I’m a professional and better able to construct an authentic you than you are. The internet is scary, give me a job managing your bit of it’.

  • Jon Hickman

    Thanks Dave. I had a quick chat to Sammy before I posted this, and it relates more to the event side of her project which is about general buy in to the idea. There’s always that slight problem of the disconnect when staff run the account, but I do take your point. @sionsimon and @tomwatson (and man others) are pretty good examples of those who have worked out a way to make it work for themselves through their own voice. I’d mentioned those to Sammy too in terms of a panel for her event. I think Sion & Gareth together, with the added spice of a little local Erdington rivalry, would have made for a really interesting session.

  • windscorpion

    Yes maybe fear that that grubby little comments that were once made in the bar or in the privacy of your living room can now be broadcast to the world. Its nice to maybe have an insight into how politicians really think…

  • John Heaven

    I think it shows how Twitter can explode in your face. It’s really difficult to get noticed on Twitter, so you can say pretty controversial/ill-advised stuff and the worst that happens is that people stop following you. (Gareth Compton was grumbling about protestors all day and no-one seemed to notice, probably sensible enough not to give him the oxygen of publicity)Then, all of a sudden, you cross a threshold and the opposite happens: you suddenly get retweeted a thousand times because, say, a politician from a different party recognises an opportunity to hoist you by your own petard and you’re suddenly trending… and then the person you threatened/slagged off gets to hear about it, is rightly outraged, reports you to the police and you’re in the nationals.

  • Brian Homer

    Not sure I see the point of professional PRs doing Twitter for politicians. That may be safer but it’s totally inauthentic. I think it’s different for businesses and councils as a whole where it’s pretty clear that staff are tweeting on behalf of the organisation.

  • Jon Hickman

    @John – a good point really. There was a lot of bluster on Twitter about it, but it was one person who talk it down: the subject of the tweet who reported it to the police and who went on TV.@Brian – I tend to take your position too, over Dave’s. Hopefully Sammy’s project will take off and navigate some of this water. She’s sure to share the results when she’s done it.

  • Dave Harte

    My remark was less a position, more a strategy for the student to get some work from the situation. I’m less worried about the authenticity of politicians than I am about the employability of students.