Prime minister David Cameron checks to see if Barack Obama has followed him back yet. Photo: Getty.
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Four tips David Cameron can learn from world leaders on how to use Twitter

What tips can David Cameron learn from the annual Twiplomacy report, which studies how world leaders use Twitter? He needs a little help – not only because he's regularly insulted online, but because Barack Obama won't follow him back. 

Offline, India's new prime minister Narendra Modi is a divisive figure – the charismatic son of a tea-seller rose through the ranks of the militant Hindu Nationalist group the RSS and is believed to have played a key role in inciting the 2002 Gujurat riots that saw over a thousand people, mainly Muslims, killed. Online, however, he’s proved a hit. The 2014 Twiplomacy report, which analyses the use of Twitter by heads of state and world leaders, has found that he’s shot up to become the fourth most-followed world leader, with 4.99m followers. He recently overtook the White House, which has 4.98 million followers.

The most-followed world leader remains Barack Obama with 43.7 million followers, followed by the Pope who has 14 million followers across his nine different language accounts. This makes David Cameron’s following look slightly measly – he has 669,000 followers on his @David_Cameron account and 2.68 million under the @Number10gov handle.

But then all world leaders can only aspire to the online following of Justin Bieber, who has 52.5 million Twitter fans, or the 54 million following each of Katy Perry’s profound tweets. She recently tweeted that we should “unplug to connect”. Which is deep. But probably not good advice for politicians in the internet age.

So what lessons can politicians learn from the Twitplomacy report?

1. Barack Obama doesn’t follow back

It’s understandable that world leaders should want to follow Barack Obama when he occupies such an influential position in international diplomacy. The @WhiteHouse and @BarackObama accounts are followed by 222 and 179 world leaders respectively. But no one likes a Twitter user who doesn’t follow back. Barack Obama only follows two world leaders: Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. I can’t figure out the logic behind Obama’s Twitter friendships, but it’s a bit embarrassing for David Cameron and the special relationship, especially as Obama does follow my friend Amir (@Afesh), a freelance journalist. 

2. Having a lot of followers isn’t the same as having a lot of influence

Barack Obama has the most followers, and his “Four more years” tweet was one of the most popular tweets ever, having been retweeted 806,066 times. But the Pope is more influential. On average his tweets are re-tweeted 10,000 times from his Spanish account and 6,462 from his English account. The Venezuelan prime minister is the second most influential, his tweets are shared an average of 2,065 times. Obama averages 1,442 retweets.

The Twiplomacy Report doesn’t cover average Twitter replies or their content – which might be good news for Cameron who regularly gets tweeted insults such as “f*** off moonface” or, more creatively, “deluded spunktrumpet dishface”. I bet the Pope doesn’t have to put up with that.

3. Tweeting selfies is a good idea (except possibly for Cameron)

On average, tweeting pictures is a good idea, as it boosts engagement by 62%. Obama showed this successfully with his “four more years” picture of him hugging Michelle. Cameron has tried to do the same – a third of his tweets include a picture or infographic. Sometimes, however, it backfires.




4. Don’t worry, autocrats, banning the Twitter needn’t affect your popularity!

Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might have tried to ban Twitter in March, but this hasn’t stopped him from amassing an impressive 4.3 million followers, making him the seventh most followed world leader. Autocrats can take heart: apparently banning Twitter in your country doesn’t necessarily affect online popularity. Twitter is banned in Iran, yet the country’s President Hassan Rouhani has had the fastest-growing account over the last year: he has 223,000 followers, 19 times higher than in 2013. But please don’t ban Twitter, Cameron. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.