I decided to do an experiment. If I had access to the web but only through the Twitter lens how much of the world outside my walls could I know about? Is everything worth knowing – and indeed everything not worth knowing – available on Twitter? If it is not tweeted about did it not happen?
I could very easily get overwhelmed by a tidal-wave of global tweets so decided to focus on a trending item in my own country, the UK.
Trending fifth was the Leveson Inquiry. Or it was when I commenced this piece – as of this pargraph it is now third – such are the ever-moving trends on Twitter. And the number one trendng item is British actor Hugh Grant who is currently testifying before the inquiry.
The Leveson Inquiry itself has its own website – in its words set up to provide the latest information on the Inquiry, including details of hearings and evidence, to the public and interested parties. The Inquiry itself was set up to investigate the culture, practices and ethics of the press with further detail on its remit given on this page.
I did a quick look on Google News by way of comparison of old media with new media Twitter in its reporting of this Inquiry (or Enquiry but let’s just settle on Inquiry!). It was certainly being prominently reported with for example the BBC running with the headline Hacked Dowlers Thought Milly was Alive.
The Inquiry could also be followed live with The Telegraph just one media outlet showing a feed of it.
And the Leveson Inquiry is not just a British news media story, it has global involvement and interest too. Added spice would be how news organisations most directly implicated in the hacking scandal would report it as against those with so far at least cleaner hands. In the USA The Wall Street Journal a News International title reported on the parent’s of Milly Dowler’s testimony. This particular item was also reported in Australia by The Australian.
But back to my experiment and Twitter – just how much would I be able to find out about the Inquiry’s progress today by reading Tweets alone? And by ‘Tweets alone’ I mean by reading their content not any links that will inevitably be attached to some them to other web-pages and news stories – linking indeed to the traditional media. These I would not follow as in my experiment the web is out of bounds to me bar Twitter and so the links would all lead to Pages Not Found!
The very fact that this Inquiry was trending was already instructional to me as though I was aware of this inquiry taking place I was not aware of when it was due to take place. It was Twitter then that brought this fact to my attention.
One item temporarily out-trending the Leveson Inquiry was ‘Mungo’ – the only Mungo I could think of was 1970’s English rock group Mungo Jerry – but it turns out that Mungo is one of Hugh Grant’s middle names! – so yet another trending Leveson Inquiry item.
Another aspect of the Twitter attention of this issue was the sheer volume of Tweets it was generating – in just the fifteen minutes it has taken me to type up to this paragraph another 300 tweets using the Leveson Hash Tag (#Leveson) have appeared – I clearly am not going to be able to keep up!
Though most of those tweeting were individuals – both celebrities and mere mortals such as myself – news organisations were tweeting updates too, such as BBC News and Channel 4 News.
One such organisational Tweet was from yesterday from a self-proclaimed News Alliance who commented that ‘All newspapers have a financial and political agenda behind the scenes and they are not in the least concerned about
#Leveson pseudo-inquiry’. It was not clear to me whether they thought such an inquiry should be taking place at all or that it should but did not have enough teeth. Clicking on to their Twitter account it became clear it was the latter with this following Tweet better summarising their position “Hugh Grant has proved the #Leveson ‘Inquiry’ will be a celebrity self-pity party for the most part. Let’s hear some real media corruption’…the account is also linked to a Simon Tomlin so then not quite sure if an alliance or just a one-man band. These anyway were pre-inquiry tweets from November 13. Back to today November 21 and the responses to the inquiry in progress.
The first Tweet I came upon that struck me most forcibly, succinctly got to the heart of the matter of the corrupt relationship between the largely London-based media and the (Metropolitan) police. It was from Ben Fenton and read ‘One girlfriend was mugged. We called the police. It was the photographers who came round first.
#hughgrant tells #leveson‘. Ben Fenton it transpires is old media from the Financial Times if quick to point out tweeting in his own capacity not theirs!
Unsurprisingly when an item like this gets shared it is not done so by a lone tweeter rather many others will tweet either verbaitim or with some small variation – others tweeting this included Paul Waugh, the Editor of Politics Home.
Clearly there is no love lost between Hugh Grant and the British media – the Tabloid press in particular – with this tweet from Ravi Somaiya neatly summing up Grant’s contempt for them – “In the absence of information, they’ll make it up,” says Grant of British tabloids. It transpired that Ravi Somaiya too is old media being a journalist for the New York Times London bureau. I suppose one should not be surprised that journalists of the old media make use of the new media sites like Twitter and perhaps are their most prolific tweeters.
Hugh Grant’s involvement in this inquiry relates to exploring how much privacy celebrities should have. Another aspect of this inquiry and much more political dynamite is the relationship between the British Government, its political parties and the press – and who has the real power in our country the British Parliament or News International – the Prime Minister or the Editor of the Sun or The Daily Mail?
One such tweet expressing some disinterest in the celebrity side of things came from Siobhan O’Neill – ‘Not sure why this guy is questioning Grant over his choice of statement to the press about his baby. Relevant how?’ Another from Dickson Edwards drily observing that the inquiry is turning into a posher version of Jeremy Kyle! This was retweeted a number of times.
Hugh Grant reserved most of his ire for one newspaper in particular – The Daily Mail – one of its columnist’s Amanda Platell sitting just a few feet away from him. The drama!
Another organisation following this inquiry is the Index On Censorship who Tweeted ‘Grant and publicist on phone discussing press statement: “not ideal circumstances. I was dressed as a cannibal at the time.” Enough said!
Clearly not everyone watching the inquiry was enthralled to it with this tweet from Ivor Sawbottom (oh dear!) commenting that it was like watching paint dry. In contrast a tweet from Kirsten Han, a Singaporean blogger, considered it anything but boring – ‘I just wanted a peek at the
#Leveson inquiry and see what Hugh #Grant is saying – it has now been 45 minutes and I’m still watching’.
A reminder of how interconnected modern media is was demonstrated in this Tweet from Joel M Gunter – ‘Attention from Hugh Grant’s
#Levesonappearance has apparently crashed his Paul McMullan piece on the @newstatesman site’. Joel Gunter is a senior reporter at media news site Journalism UK – and I assure you I was not seeking out Journo tweets – they though were clearly seeking me out.
There was much observation that Hugh Grant was getting irked with the judge prompting this tweet from Sam Knight ‘New drinking game: Drink every time Hugh Grant rolls his eyes’. He did not say what we should drink but we can assume not tea.
There seems to be a Twitter consensus too that Hugh Grant is being given a hard time – harder than for example the Murdoch’s Rupert and James were given at the UK Parliamentary Inquiries when facing forensic questions from the Labour MP Tom Watson — I see this as a positive sign though and that Leveson is going to treat all those appearing before him with thorough scrutiny.
ITN London tweeted this Hugh Grant quote ‘My publicists throw their hands up over Britain, they say it’s uncontrollable!’ This was retweeted by Royal Forum Moron – I love some of the aliases used!
Twitter will also pick up on anything no matter how tangental and one curious trend was #Womanontheleft – clearly someone to the left of Hugh Grant on screen was attracting attention among the twitterati! Later all was revealed by a Twitter photograph of a lawyer as much interested it seems in the look of Hugh Grant as the words coming out of his mouth!
Celebrities were tweeting too including The IT Crowd and Father Ted creator Graham Linehan ‘I assumed it was, Mister Grant, that’s why I wasn’t going to read it out. Yeah, right!’ – this being an example of a Tweet that only makes sense if you were watching the inquiry whilst watching Twitter too!
And at 15.55 I decided to log off from Twitter with the inquiry and Hugh Grant still in full flow for if I were to report everything of note that was Tweeted this blog post would go on to ten thousand words and beyond. It just going to show how much can be said from so little. And this also based on the Leveson hash-tag had I used #HughGrant I would have generated further tweets still.
Clearly not all events will be as widely tweeted as the Leveson Inquiry. This was an event being broadcast around the globe afterall. But it does show what a democratic window on the world Twitter is. Let us hope that it never becomes poisoned with political cronyism and other old-media misdemeanours.
- Milly Dowler phone hacking: ‘She’s picked up her voicemail, she’s alive’ – mum tells Leveson Inquiry of moment she thought Milly was alive (mirror.co.uk)
- The Leveson inquiry is a high-court conflict between celebrities and tabloids (guardian.co.uk)
- Leveson Inquiry Into Phone Hacking, Media Begins (huffingtonpost.com)