SOCIAL MEDIA?: When Twitter put a human face on the global meltdown

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Recession Britain
Originally uploaded by The real Derryn


I have a name for the recession. It’s not Gordon. Or Barack. It’s Alan.

Alan? Alan who?

Alan South. Or rather @alaricthegoth.

Let me explain.

Alan lives in the South of England. He was made redundant some time ago from the financial services sector. He’s victim of the credit crunch like millions of others.

I started following Alan on Twitter after seeing his details tweeted by BBC’s morning flagship show BBC 4’s Today Programme.

He was one of four jobless people selected for regular updates.

He has children. They’ve grown up now. He supports Spurs. He’s tickled sometimes when I talk about my children from time to time.

He encourages me occasionally when I get down about my football team, Stoke City.

He’s a good man.

It’s one of those impermanent Twitter relationships. Occasional 140 character snippits that give tiny fragment snapshots into a character.

We kid ourselves if we get to really know people through social media, don’t we? We can’t really be too bothered about what happens to them. Can we?

That’s what I thought.

It was a while since I noticed @alaricthegoth’s tweets. With Twitter’s ease of follow and unfollow  you can’t be expected to know what all are up to.

Which is why I was suprised at myself when I came across Alan breaking a silence of several weeks.

I’d finished putting my 17-month old daughter to bed. With her asleep in her cot I felt the tired elation every lucky parent knows at the end of a long day.

With feet up I idly scanned through the tweets.

I follow a mixed bag of people. The entertaining. The social media savvy. Local gov people. News updates. Black Country people. The man who takes a picture a day from the Clent hills.

As I scrolled down I noticed @alaricthegoth back online. But as I read I was stunned with Alan’s bleak tone.

“Thoroughly fed up,” the first tweet read. “Nothing, but nothing new. No interviews since I can’t remember when. Am sending new cv but zero responses. Still.”

He continued: “BBCs Today prog interviewed me again yesterday, going out at 7am tomorrow.

“Last few quid runs out soon, I’ve cut everything down to the bone but I won’t be able to eat and have broadband/mobile/electricity soon.”

More worrying still:

“Next step is gradual slide into homelessness.”

That worried me. And it worries me still.

Of course, I sent him tweets to cheer him. He thanked me because that’s the sort of chap Alan is.

It bothered me that he was down. It made me remember my spell on the dole post-University in 1993.

Unable to get a job I was reduced to living at home drawing benefit once every two weeks.

It was the blackest time of my life. The shadow that time cast can still send a shudder.

This is not a political blog. Or even a recession blog. It’s a blog about social media. And people.

Twitter is a resource unimaginable to previous generations.

In real time it can bring you the news stories.

But it can also bring you the pain behind those stories. It’s a pain that can address you personally.

I’d like to be able to tell you that @alaricthegoth has found work. I’d like to say that Alan’s BBC interviews and tweets have led to a fairy godmother benefactor. It hasn’t happened.

I’m still hoping for a happy ending.

But I still believe in Alan.

Because he is a good man.


Originally written as a guest blog on

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  1. What a beautiful and heartfelt blog, Dan. I too have been unemployed for much longer than I had hoped for. I know exactly what is like to have to count the pennies for buying one’s food, and how damaging it can be to one’s self-esteem and confidence not to be called for a single interview for months and months… I too have occasionally tweeted out an odd cry of despair, but someone always noticed and sent me messages of comfort and encouragement. These often gave me the courage to keep battling on…for just a day longer.

    …Because it felt good to know someone CARED, even a stranger on Twitterverse.

    I have no doubt Alan is a good man and wish him the best of luck. But it is people like you, able to recognise the pain behind the 140 characters, who add value to Twitter with a touch of humanity.

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