The general election, Twitter, and the two-hour news cycle

Pete Marcus

08 Apr 2015

2015 is the Twitter election.

This is not to say that conversations on Twitter will swing the result one way or the other. After all, Twitter is still a minority pursuit amongst the UK population, unlike Facebook.

But Twitter is where the political-media elite go to debate the issues, break and share news, and thrash out the implications of it all.

This means political parties and media outlets have developed brigades of people to create content tailored to shaping the conversation on Twitter. Photos, infographics, clips, posters, ads: the old names we used to call this content are now almost meaningless. Regardless of whether it’s static or moving, all that matters is that the unit of content can be tweeted and retweeted.

The Twitter election also means that news cycles are speeding up. Even just a couple of elections ago, the rhythm of a day on the election campaign trail was set: morning news conference announcing a policy, debate and discussion about its merits in the afternoon, and perhaps a new opinion poll in the evening, all of which got written up overnight for the next day’s newspapers. And then the cycle would begin again.

Now the news cycle is much, much faster. Instead of one story dominating a day’s campaigning, we have multiple stories, toing and froing in cycles of claim and counterclaim. This is the two-hour Twitter news cycle identified by US academics.

Take today, for instance…

Ed Miliband announces a policy to abolish non-dom status:

The Conservatives dig up old footage of Ed Balls seemingly contradicting this policy:

The Guardian spot that the Ed Balls footage seems to have been misleadingly edited:

All of that within four or five hours.

How much of this makes its way through to the general public – most of whom don’t use Twitter, remember – is difficult to say. But certainly it shapes opinions amongst the political-media elite who, in turn, help shape public attitudes. And it shows how vital it is to have the resources and organisational structure in place to develop this content and respond in real time.