Twitter has helped shift the balance of media power from press barons to the people – a true champagne moment, writes John Prescott
Tuesday marked a turning point for the UK mainstream media. The combined total of people who buy daily national newspapers is 9,002,963. The number of people on Twitter in the UK is now 10 million.
Where once press barons were courted by politicians and PRs, the people have now established their own media. It costs nothing, is faster than mainstream media and galvanises people into action.
Back in 1996, I went to a do with Pauline. A photographer took a picture of us at our table. The following day the London Evening Standard ran a picture with the caption “champagne socialist”.
There was no bottle of champagne at our table – the paper had cropped the picture to make a bottle of Becks look like a bottle of Moët. Another beer near my hand was airbrushed out completely.
I complained but, after a few days, I’d heard nothing. So I released a statement which was published in the Independent and, eventually after weeks, I received an apology from the Standard.
In June 2011, the Sunday Times wrongly reported I had told “friends” that my party’s new leader had not made “a good start” to his leadership. The headline read “Labour Big Beasts Maul Ed Miliband”.
I tweeted: “I see there’s a quote purporting to be from me in the Sunday Times. It’s completely made up. An absolute lie.”
Within an hour, the paper replied “Due to a prod[uction] error a quote was wrongly attributed to @johnprescott. We apologise for the confusion & are happy to set the record straight.”
Both stories illustrate how power in the media has shifted dramatically. Twitter has created an important and speedy check on our newspapers – a role the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) failed miserably to fulfil – and finally made press barons accountable to the people.
Even Rupert Murdoch, who vented his spleen in Sun editorials, realised the power shift and cut out the middleman by finally joining Twitter in January.
The Jan Moir Twitter storm about her terrible Daily Mail piece on Stephen Gately’s “sleazy” death led to thousands of tweeters, myself included, posting the link to officially complain to the PCC. A record 25,000 did and Moir was forced to apologise.
Twitter users also bombarded News of the World’s advertisers after accusations it had hacked Milly Dowler’s phone. O2, Boots, Halifax, Dixons, Sainsbury’s, the Co-op, npower and Ford all withdrew their advertising and the paper was closed within a week.
Social media also helped set up the Leveson inquiry. While very few media outlets covered the Guardian’s original phone-hacking investigations in 2009 in any detail, it was kept alive on Twitter as new information emerged.
They wouldn’t let it lie and the mainstream media were ultimately compelled to investigate the story, leading to a critical mass of public anger and official action.
Twitter is OUR media, the public have become the news editors and the Twitter trend list is the running order.
It’s given me a voice and a connection to millions of people that the distorted prism of the mainstream media denied.
So for me, life is tweet. Though it would be even tweeter if they verified me.
John Prescott is the former deputy prime minister. He joined Twitter on 22 January 2009 and presently has almost 132,000 followers.