RUSSIAN SOCIAL: 18 things from a digital debate with the Russian Ambassador

So, what’s to share from a trip to the Russian Ambassador’s residence in London for a discussion on how the internet shapes political decision?

Actually, quite a lot and not just that it’s a very large house in Westminster.  And no, there was no Ferrero Roche. It was hosted by Jimmy Leach the former head of digital at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and had Tom Whitwell the head of digital operations at The Times and Sunday Times and Guido Fawkes blogger Paul Staines. Conservative MP Douglas Carwell began with a discussion on the birth of what he calls ‘i-democracy’.

Maybe it was because we are British but the alleged treatment of dissidents was not raised until almost the end of the session and it was Guido Fawkes who mentioned it in passing.

For all that it was a discussion about democracy and what it looks like and is shaped by the web in 2013 there were some useful take-homes for someone interested in digital communications.

Here are 18 things I learned from the event

  1. The Russian Ambassador’s residence is a mighty grand place.
  2. At Westminster, there are backbench MPs who have a greater profile than ministers in government.
  3. We are not yet at a stage where elections are decided by social media.
  4. E-mail played a major and unheralded part in the election victory of Barack Obama but it’s never had the attention that social media had.
  5. People really, really hate spammy or insincere emails.
  6. Digital democracy can also include unsubscribing from spammy and insincere emails.
  7. At the next election, the difference between the two largest parties is that the Conservatives are favouring Facebook and Labour are focussing more on Twitter.
  8. At the last UK general election, social media gave a skewed view of what would happen at the polls with more traffic for Labour not equating to votes.
  9. In Telford, the election of the police commissioner was won by a candidate who tweeted once and the one with the biggest online profile finished third.
  10. There is a feeling that it is only a matter of time before the UK government more closely regulate social media.
  11. Under current defamation laws, a 15-year-old tweeter is treated just the same as a newspaper editor.
  12. Twitter has democratised comment and there are political commentators who have been rendered obsolete by it.
  13. Until 1918, an MP seeking to join the government by being appointed a minster in a re-shuffle had to resign and stand again in a by-election before taking office.
  14. The smoked salmon at the Russian Ambassador’s residence is very good.
  15. The e-petition asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be PM wasn’t deleted when it was first posted because Jimmy Leach was ‘too tired.’
  16. The screening mechanism for angry letters is well developed in government. Less so for social media. Twenty people write on a topic and little happens. Twenty tweet and it gets seen as a movement and consultants get called in.
  17. A good blog is simply good stories well told, say The Times.
  18. Twitter may not be a force for democratic good. It’s owned by one company in America. The jury of history is still out.

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