Welcome to Twitter, Prime Minister

Summary:Dear Mr Rudd, it's wonderful that you've joined Twitter. Of course Mr Turnbull was here a month before you, but Twitter has been around more than two years. You're both complete n00bs. May I offer some tips?

commentary Dear Mr Rudd, it's wonderful that you've joined Twitter. Of course Mr Turnbull was here a month before you, but Twitter has been around more than two years. Even sceptical old me has been here a year. You're both complete n00bs. May I offer some tips?

This article is by Stilgherrian, a Sydney-based consultant working at the intersection of the internet, media and information technology. It first appeared on his own site and is published on ZDNet.com.au with his permission.

Stilgherrian
(Credit: Stilgherrian.com)

The first thing you must understand is that Twitter is about human communication. We already have more formula-driven spin-doctor-approved crap than we'll ever need. What we want to see is you, Kevin, that smart hard-working control-freak slightly-daggy-but-endearing father of three. The guy who after a long day's campaigning could still crack a joke with The Chaser crew when they turned up at your home.

This afternoon you walked into the world's weirdest non-stop front bar cum water cooler conversation and said "Looking forward to communicating with you on Twitter". Outstanding. And now 430+ people have turned around to pay attention, and quite a few have even said hello. More will join them. What happens next is a conversation. You'll be judged on that conversation, not what you do elsewhere — though we'll certainly want to talk about your work. And your pets.

And your tea towels.

I'm guessing that right now your Hollowmen are analysing every reaction to your tweet (singular), agonising over how you should respond. Tell them to piss off. You're a grown man — you're the Prime Minister for God's sake! — so if you can't talk with a fellow human when they say hello without someone advising you what to say, you might as well give up now.

Just. Be. Yourself.

The second thing, though, is that you will find it strange and challenging. And that's OK. We all did.

Twitter is both ephemeral and on the record all at the same time. It represents a new mode of communication. Society (and politics!) will need to adapt to people's actual humanity. Twitter's ambient intimacy provides you with a window into the lives of the people you follow, and us with a window into yours. What will we see?

We understand that you won't want to reveal everything. Old-fashioned tabloid journalists, hypocrites that they are, make a big deal about what is actually normal human activity. Those of us who've made the transition to the hyper-connected world don't care so much, because we see more of humanity's actual variety. We know that people express frustration after a tough day, or doubts in uncertain times, and we don't think any less of them. In fact, we think more of them for sharing.

We know that you'll draw the curtains from time to time. We won't see tweets like "Ordering the RAAF to bomb Wellington" or "I so want to stab Malcolm Turnbull with a pen, the smarmy prick!" or "ZOMG Julia Gillard is teh hotness!!1!!!1!" — though we'd all relate to that last one! But it'd be good to loosen that media mask just a little. Us hyper-connected folks respect honesty.

The other thing to notice is that Twitter is fast. Very fast.

Kevin Rudd
(Credit: PM's office)

The inimitable Mark Pesce has already written all about this in his lecture Hyperpolitics, American Style. You might want to put your feet up, make a nice strong cup of tea, crack open the Iced Vo-Vos and watch. He "gets it" more than those Sussex Street machine men will ever understand. If you've got time, you might also try Only Connect or even the more challenging This, That, and the Other. If you can absorb the lessons and work them into your personal politics, you will be full of WIN!

If you truly engage with Twitter — or rather, engage with the people who sit right in front of you thanks to Twitter — you'll be able to bounce around ideas and reach a consensus before one of the old political dinosaurs has even finished his first canvassing phone call.

The real lesson is that you can't just translate what you do in industrial-age media into this new world. You need to learn new skills, and the best way is to immerse yourself. Take the plunge. We won't laugh.

Well, not at first.

Of course if @KevinRuddPM is not actually you but a minion, things are different ...

There's nothing wrong with a minion-operated Twitter account. @DowningStreet has even managed to inject real personality into the role even though it's shared by three humans! Just be honest about that up front, and let the minion be a human.

It's even kinda OK if the Twitter account is only to tell us about new posts to kevinpm.com.au — though that's also kinda lame because the website already has an RSS feed and your first tweet did use the word "communicating". We have expectations.

Over to you, Prime Minister!

P.S. Can you tell Conroy to pull his head in about the Internet censorship thing? It's not a good look to have been elected on talk of "evidence-based policy" and then ignore the evidence.

P.P.S. Do you agree with John Birmingham when he says that Conroy does a "puckered cat's bum thing with [his] mouth" when equating freedom of speech with kiddie-porn-watching? Just wondering. You can message me privately about that one, promise I won't tell.

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust. He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit tr... Full Bio

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