Simon Dickson has been blogging about online government, politics and WordPress since 2005. Some important people read it.

 
 
Tuesday 20 March 2012

When is an ‘official’ Twitter account not an official Twitter account?

Much consternation in certain political circles this afternoon, as Boris Johnson renames his Twitter account... and takes a quarter of a million people's details over to his election campaign HQ.

Johnson was elected on 4 May 2008. His first tweet came on 8 May 2008 ('Setting up social marketing accounts!') - although it's not entirely clear what username the account used when it was created. In January 2009, though, he changed that username to MayorOfLondon. And the account has been quoted since at least May 2009 in official City Hall press releases, as his official account. Or in the case of that May 2009 press release, 'the Mayor's Twitter site'.

Before today's change, the URL associated with the account was http://www.london.gov.uk/ - and the biography read:

City Government for Greater London under the auspices of the Mayor of London

Could it have sounded more official?

(Something similar has happened to his Facebook account too; facebook.com/borisjohnson is now adorned with BackBoris2012 logos, and contains no history prior to 17 March 2012. And yes, that Facebook URL has similarly been promoted in the past as his official presence.)

In response, there's a statement on the BackBoris website:

As some of you may have noticed, earlier today Boris changed the name of his Twitter account from @MayorofLondon to @BorisJohnson. While the name of the account may have changed, rest assured that the account is still - and has always been - controlled by Boris.

No City Hall resources will be used to update or maintain the account - that would be against the rules. Given we're now in the official election period, this change is being made so there can be no question of Boris using official resources to campaign.

Of course, those who no longer wish to follow the account are welcome to "unfollow" at any time.

Of course, it's not the fact that future City Hall resources will be used; it's that past City Hall resources have already been used to build up a significant following. And the last line is somewhat ill-advised, in my opinion.

I'd be very interested to find out from people at City Hall - or indeed, from HM Government's Deputy Director of Digital Engagement, Emer Coleman who used to be City Hall's head of digital projects - as to whether City Hall thought it 'owned' the account on behalf of the office of Mayor.

If the account was always personal, Boris should have used his personal name. By using the name of his elected office, the natural assumption is unquestionably that you are following the individual in his/her elected capacity - as was the case with the Prime Ministerial Twitter account.

Here's a tip. If you're working in a government web team, I strongly advise you get something in writing to confirm who exactly owns any Ministerial accounts - rapidly.

Update: a climbdown of sorts. Boris has tweeted:

To be clear- @borisjohnson will only be used for discussing mayoral duties. To follow me on the campaign trail, follow @backboris2012

And in a post on the BackBoris2012 website:

'As he entered the campaign he was determined to ensure there was no confusion between him as Mayor and him as a candidate and therefore changed the name of his Twitter account.

‘He did not expect this openness and honesty to have created such hysteria.

‘So in case there is even one Londoner who has a problem with what he did, he will not use that account for the campaign and instead can be followed from the political front on @BackBoris2012.’

Has he reverted back to being @MayorOfLondon? No. But the username hasn't been abandoned - someone, and you have to hope it's someone close to Boris and/or City Hall, has bagged it. Hopefully for safe keeping. We don't want this happening again, do we.

Updated update: Somewhat inevitably, Boris has - pardon the pun - backed down. He's now reverted to using @MayorOfLondon as his account name, and the BorisJohnson account has gone blank again.

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Kate says:

    Not sure what I think about the Twitter swap, but I've just been on Boris Johnson's Facebook page and there is clearly content pre-17 March.

    It looks like the campaign team has been posting for at least six months (I only scrolled back to September 2011).

  2. Michele says:

    Even politician nowadays are conscious about their social media accounts for political campaign purposes.