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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Interview: Momentum’s vice chair Jackie Walker on unity, antisemitism, and discipline in Labour

The leading pro-Corbyn campaigner sets out her plan for the party.

As Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters celebrate after his second win, Jackie Walker – vice chair of the pro-Corbyn campaign organisation Momentum, a Labour member and an activist – talks about the result and the next steps for Labour’s membership.

Walker is a controversial figure in the party. Her history as a black anti-racism activist and advocate for Palestine, and her Jewish background on both sides of her family, did not keep her from being accused of antisemitism for a February Facebook post about the African slave trade. In May, she was suspended from the Labour party for her comments, only to be reinstated a few weeks later after a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee.

Anger was reignited at an event hosted by Momentum that she spoke at during Labour party conference, on whether Labour has an antisemitism problem. Walker said the problem was “exaggerated” by Corbyn’s critics, and used as a “weapon of political mass destruction” by the media. (We spoke to Walker before this debate took place).

After a summer plagued by suspensions of Labour members, accusations of hateful speech on both sides, and calls for civility, Walker discusses what steps need to be taken forward to help bring the party together.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke in his acceptance speech about wiping the slate clean and the need to unite the party. What steps can members from all sides take to unite the party?

I think people have got to stop using antagonistic language with each other, and I think they’ve got to stop looking for ways to undermine the democratic will of the membership. That has now been plainly stated, and that’s even with something like 120,000 members not getting their vote because of the freeze. He has increased his majority – we all need to acknowledge that.

Is there anything that Corbyn’s supporters need to do – or need not to do – to contribute towards unity?

I can’t speak for the whole of Jeremy’s supporters, who are numbered in their hundreds and thousands; I know that in my Labour group, we are always bending over backwards to be friendly and to try and be positive in all of our meetings. So I think we just have to keep on being that – continue trying to win people over by and through our responses.

I was knocking doors for Labour last week in support of a local campaign protesting the planned closure of several doctors’ surgeries – I spoke to a voter on a door who said that they love the Labour party but felt unable to vote for us as long as Corbyn is leader. What should we say to voters like that?

The first thing I do is to ask them why they feel that way; most of the time, what I find is that they’ve been reading the press, which has been rabid about Jeremy Corbyn. In all the research that we and others have done, the British public agree overwhelmingly with the policies espoused by Jeremy Corbyn, so we’ve got to get on the doorstep and start talking about policies. I think that sometimes what happens in constituency Labour party groups is that people are saying “go out there and canvass but don’t mention Jeremy”. I think that we need to do the opposite – we need to go out there and talk about Jeremy and his policies all the time.

Now that Corbyn has a stronger mandate and we’ve had these two programmes on Momentum: Channel 4’s Dispatches and BBC’s Panorama, which were explanations of the group, Momentum’s role will be pivotal. How can Momentum contribute towards party unity and get its membership out on the doorstep?

I think we have to turn our base into an activist base that goes out there and starts campaigning – and doesn’t just campaign during elections but campaigns all the time, outside election time. We have to do the long campaign.

The Corbyn campaign put out a video that was subsequently withdrawn – it had been condemned by the pressure group the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which has filed a disciplinary complaint against him. What are your thoughts on the video?

I find their use of accusations of antisemitism reprehensible – I am an anti-racist campaigner and I think they debase the whole debate around anti-racism and I think they should be ashamed of themselves. There is nothing wrong with that video that anyone could look at it and say this is antisemitic. I would suggest that if people have doubt, they should look at the video and judge for themselves whether it is antisemitic.

There’s been a compliance process over the last several months that’s excluded people from the party for comments on social media. Now that Corbyn is in again, how should compliance change?

One of the issues is that we have gotten Jeremy back in as leader, but control of the NEC is still under question. Until the NEC actually accepts the recommendations of Chakrabati in terms of the workings of disciplinary procedures, then I think we’re going to be forever embroiled in these kinds of convoluted and strange disciplinary processes that no other political party would either have or put up with.

There have been rumours that Corbyn’s opponents will split from the party, or mount another leadership challenge. What do you think they’ll do?

I have absolutely no idea – there are so many permutations about how this game could now be played – and I say game because I think that there are some who are Jeremy’s opponents who kind of see it as a power game. I read a tweet somewhere saying that the purpose of this leadership election – which has damaged Labour hugely – has nothing to do with the idea that actually Owen Smith, his challenger, could have won, but is part of the process to actually undermine Jeremy. I think people like that should really think again about why they’re in the Labour party and what it is they’re doing.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.