Buying tweets in UK politics

There was an interesting debate on Twitter yesterday between @PaulLewis and @RowennaDavis about the latter being paid £75 to tweet about the Sky News show Murnaghan. It turns out that for more than a year non-Sky journalists have been paid £75 to tweet for the two hours the show is taking place. This is a selection of the tweets in the debate between the two of them:

Give Rowenna her due – she is at least honest about what’s going on.

But the problem with this for me is two-fold.

Firstly, who are the people that Sky News has been paying for this in the past, and will continue to pay in the future? How, as someone following the #Murnaghan tweets can we know who is tweeting as a result of being paid, and who is not? I can quite understand a journalist tweeting to support her or his own show or publication, but if it’s an independent person how can followers reasonably tell? Plus if Nike is cautioned by the ASA over Rooney tweets, do we need the same rules for the promotion of TV programmes?

The second issue is how this changes the fundamental nature of Twitter. It’s not as if pushing the boundaries on Twitter is unknown in UK politics – Grant Shapps and Tories buying followers are testimony to this. Yet episodes like these erode the fundamental nature of Twitter as a medium – where it is (or at least was) a relatively level playing field for the exchange of views between individuals. Building a personal following, or a following for your show or event, was about good content and honest engagement. Now it’s about paying influential people and gaming your follower numbers. As Michael Sandel outlines in What Money Can’t Buy, once payment is introduced, a lot of the moral value of behaviour is lost.

As for my own approach: needless to say I have never been paid to tweet, and I am not paid to blog (more on that here). If there are ever any financial aspects to my blogging (for example someone inviting me somewhere so as to live-blog it), then I will explain that in advance (see this for example).

One thought on “Buying tweets in UK politics

  1. A further aspect: Sunny Hundal on Twitter raised the issue of paid media appearances. The few times I have been on radio or TV I have never been paid for it.

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