Minister (not) warned for (not) tweeting at 1am

For the last week or two, I’ve been trying to draw together some thoughts on Ministers and blogging / tweeting, particularly as regards former Opposition figures now finding themselves in government, and a coalition government at that. Truth be told, I still don’t have a great conclusion to share, only that it’s a bit complicated.
One MP who hasn’t let the transition to Ministerial office stop her blogging is Lynne Featherstone. She’s been as prolific as ever, with posts on constituency matters, party affairs and her new Home Office equalities portfolio. This caught the attention of the Daily Mail, who published a story at the weekend entitled: ‘Minister warned over 1am tweets‘.
There were only two problems with that headline:

  • The tweets weren’t at 1am. As Mark Pack explained at Lib Dem Voice, the default timezone when you look at is San Francisco: so those ‘1am tweets’ would actually have been 9am UK time… if that even matters.
  • I’ve been in touch with Lynne directly, and she confirms to me: ‘no [Home Office] mandarins have told me off at all!’ And the next bit won’t come as any surprise: ‘Nor did the Mail check any details with me.’

The extent of the warning appears to have been a proactive call to the Home Office press office, with a ‘spokesman’ being quoted: ‘The Minister is well aware of her responsibilities under the Ministerial Code.’ You could call that a warning; I’d call it a statement of fact.
It’s a pathetic character assassination piece, with so many holes in it that I can’t face picking it to pieces. Even a blog post highly complimentary of her ‘boss’ at the Home Office, Conservative minister Theresa May was depicted as a controversial expression of her doubts. So it’s not a bit of wonder that the ensuing comments react with horror at how someone so divisive and clearly deranged should be a government minister. Even if the Mail were to correct or withdraw the piece – which, so far, it shows no sign of doing – it’s too late; the damage, such as it is, is done.
But at least the ‘proper’ newspapers wouldn’t print something so shameful, would they? Sadly, they did. Later the same day, the Telegraph basically re-wrote and re-published the Mail piece, minus (to give them a tiny amount of credit) the embarrassing timezone thing. The Sun did pretty much the same thing, the next day.
You know, you’d almost think they’re more interested in inventing controversy than reporting facts.

One thought on “Minister (not) warned for (not) tweeting at 1am”

  1. It’s the first law of Media, Government & Twitter: thou shall be wilfully misunderstood by mainstream journalists looking to fill space. But that’s not necessarily a showstopper, as many brave ministers have shown and are showing now.
    I once tried to explain some of the issues involved to people in the firing line along the lines of:
    “Using social media personally as a minister can offer an efficient, low-cost way to engage with specific stakeholders, the wider community and the media, but can be time-consuming and requires careful management to ensure your reputation and that of the Department is protected.
    In deciding whether you wish to set up personal channels of your own, you may wish to consider the following:
    Political vs ministerial content: if you intend to use the channel for political or constituency business, this will need to be supported by your political staff rather than civil servants.
    Direct engagement with stakeholders and media: social media tools enable you to earn reputation for openness by speaking directly and rapidly to the public and stakeholder organisations and listening to their feedback. In doing so, you tend to bypass traditional mechanisms such as conventional briefing and support from a Press Officer, and you may be exposed to direct and sometimes hostile scrutiny. You may wish to discuss with the Press Office what level of support you would like to enable you to manage this risk appropriately.
    Maintenance and monitoring: social media is two-way by nature, so maintaining a personal channel requires a certain time commitment to read and reply to messages and comments. However, this need not become unduly onerous, and can sometimes be done using a mobile phone.
    Cost-effectiveness: a key benefit of social media is that tools are generally free or low cost, and can enable you to quickly reach a niche audience of thousands of key stakeholders, journalists and interested members of the public – though they are not generally a means of reaching a mass audience. However, the cost-effectiveness of government’s use of these tools remains a popular topic for Parliamentary Questions and FoI requests.
    Security issues: some social media tools disclose your current location and other personal information; are vulnerable to malicious attack or impersonation; and should in any case not be used for discussing sensitive material not already in the public domain.”
    It’s a start.

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