This author has had a Twitter presence for over a decade. It was then a lively interactive forum in which anyone who was anyone in Scottish politics had a presence and used it for informal debate and interaction. Following them and a couple of hundred others gave participants a sense of immediacy and insight that following standard media could not quite achieve. There were trolls and bigots, but not so many, nor so venomous that they did much more than highlight how informed, reasonable and open-minded the bulk of tweets were. Blocking was a last resort, and seldom necessary.
Then, four years ago, struck by macular occlusion and registered blind, it was no longer possible to follow, let alone contribute to, the cut and thrust of Twitter. Not wishing to make too much of this, there was a hiatus in this author’s participation. Due to the almost magical options available on Apple laptops, this blog was continued with little more than a drop in frequency of posts.
Twitter was another matter until this Spring, when some training, adjustments to technique and the looming elections of May 6th rendered re-involvement in the Twitterati overdue, to stay current and informed enough to feel contributions could be made.
A month reading fewer follows and making fewer contributions than before have highlighted how Twitter appears to have changed in a way that participation over the four year hiatus would not have done, as gradual change often passes unnoticed.
For a start, many of the ‘big beasts’, not just in Scotland, appear to have cut down on activity, if not disengaged altogether. Of those accounts still active, they seem to be either driven by SPADs posting in the name of the account, or, especially in the case of Scottish Conservatives (@ScotTories) the accounts are all part of a co-ordinated campaign—recently trying to catalyse wider campaigns against Nicola Sturgeon and her party (@theSNP), highlighting her government’s failures (often accurately) but posting no remedy.
There are some honourable mentions for veteran politicians who still tweet articulately themselves. From the SNP Angus MacNeil (@AngusMacNeilSNP) and Mike Russell (@feorlean) continue with active personal presence, but the days when Kezia Dugdale (@kezdugdale) or Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonPC) would spark off each other are gone. They’ve both racked over 20k tweets but lately favour retweets and positive commentary. Those still flying the political flag down south are more marginal figures like John Redwood (@johnredwood) and Michael Fabricant (Mike_Fabricant), both with interesting things to say, but neither of whom can be considered representative of mainstream.
Those still there who weigh in with worthwhile bon mots include Ruth Wishart (@ruth_wishart), Gerry Hassan (@GerryHassan), Lesley Riddoch (@LesleyRiddoch) and Andrew Wilson (@AndrewWilson) on the bolshier side of things, with Spectator editor Fraser Nelson (@FraserNelson), ex-Labour MP Tom Harris (@MrTCHarris), and Times columnist Alex Massie (@alexmassie) holding up the Establishment end with competence. For neutral commentary, the now-retired Brian Taylor is sorely missed and Douglas Fraser (@BBCDouglasF) restricts himself to business and economy. Despite being Scottish, Laura Kuenssberg (@BBClaurak) is now immersed in the Westminster bubble and Sarah Smith (@BBCsarahsmith ) makes little use of her Twitter account. Murray Foote (@murrayf00te) still weighs in with balanced observations and it would be churlish to imply that there aren’t many other well informed and articulate contributions being made.
But Twitter used to be a tau and engaging place for the political anorak. Most of the friendly chats, family updates and pictures of cats were all on Facebook; Twitter was for professional discourse. This is now much less the case.
First of all, it has become littered with media showcasing their scoops and programmes, which require subscriptions if you are mug enough to follow the links offered. However, some, like Al-Jazeera (@AJEnglish) are, in fact, informative. Second, these are interleaved with copious adverts masquerading as tweets and doubly boring because they recur so often with the same message. Thirdly, there is the proliferation of pictures and videos—snazzy technology, but too often banal.
All of this would be tolerable, were the frequency of threads with debates of posit and counter to be found as before. But, though there are still many contributions of wit and humanity to be found, the bulk of those not falling into the commercial categories above are statements of such declarative certitude as to tacitly scorn any counter-argument. This seems particularly true of replies to even innocuous declarations, many of which include swearing and disparaging personal remarks, attacking the author, rather than any argument made.
All this is not to say that Twitter no longer serves a purpose. But, between increased in-your-face commercialism, the withdrawal of many ‘names’ the blatant positioning by party apparatchiks and a feeling of venomous revenge exuded by the trolls, it has lost much of the innocent energy that drew me in circa 2010. I suspect others from that era may feel the same.