Tag Archives: twitter

There’s an election in four months


There’s an election in four months.

Those are the only words you need to remember. Whenever a politician drivels before an invited audience of heart-eyed acolytes or assembly line workers glazing over on company time for half an hour, just remember: there’s an election in four months (or three, or two, or one…).

Yesterday renowned cryptographer David Cameron said there should be no “means of communication” which “we cannot read”. This has been interpreted by technically literate commentators, mostly through the medium of boggle-eyed laughter, as expressing a desire to ban encryption or enforce the addition of backdoors. I’ve seen many, many tweets setting out the stupidity of such a move, and I have no desire or need to rehash them here.

Because the only thing you need to know is: there’s an election in four months.

Cameron is talking about monitoring the internet because there is an election in four months. He wants people to vote for him. He understands — better, sadly, than those tweeting about protocols and key escrow and men-in-the-middle and laptops left in taxis — that none of all that matters. He’s not talking to that audience, the tiny audience that groks the detail and the implications. He’s talking to the other 99%, who saw the attacks in Paris last week and think (thanks to Be Vigilant And Report Darkies posters) that we’re next.

Let’s imagine Cameron is elected in May with a majority. What would he actually do? We have no idea. There’s no manifesto yet, and manifestos can’t be trusted anyway. On past experience — we have almost five years of it now — his words don’t much match his deeds. I expect there’d be a series of meetings, possibly involving token techies invited as a sop to industry, and the End Terrorism Forever Bill 2017 (probably) that would emerge would contain no clauses capable of achieving any such thing.

There’s an election in four months. That’s all Cameron is worried about.

The opposition parties (I include the Lib Dems in that category for election purposes) have the same phrase in their heads. If they want to oppose Cameron on this issue — and I’m not entirely sure the Labour party does, for fear of being labelled soft on terrorism — then there is absolutely no point in talking technology. That’s preaching to the choir.

To oppose this policy they need to do two things: pursue, with great vigour and purpose, the support of younger people (beneficial side-effect: these are least likely to be slack-jawed kippers); and tell them in specific terms which apps and services Cameron thinks they shouldn’t be permitted to use without being snooped on.

Snapchat, WhatsApp, iMessage, FaceTime, Yik Yak, Rooms, Skype, etc, etc — and also Facebook and Twitter and plain old email, of course, but with less emphasis since younger people don’t use those so much. Ignore the likes of HTTPS, Tor, and all that: too confusing for the audience you’re trying to reach.

Keep it simple. Non-technical. Personal.

Avoid greyfaces and clumping hooves of rhetoric: all an utter turn-off for the audience. Don’t make it an official party video at all. You want Cassetteboy, not Saatchi, and if you don’t know who Cassetteboy is, fire yourself.

Here’s an idea off the top of my head: take one (or more) of those ubiquitous thirty-second promo videos from an app vendor’s website — you know the ones, with the indie guitar solos and the Californian hipster voiceovers — and every time a toothy blond communicates with another toothy blond, intercut video of Cameron sitting at a computer screen.

It doesn’t matter that it’s inaccurate or simplistic: so is what he’s claiming to propose.

There’s an election in four months.



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Avaragado’s 2015 predictions

And here they are: a list of things almost certainly not going to happen in 2015. Feel free to pop down the betting shop as soon as it opens to chuck your savings at the opposite of everything below. Don’t forget to return this time next year to gloat with your millions.


  1. There is more than one UK general election.
  2. After one of the general elections, speaker John Bercow is deposed.
  3. The royal child-beast is of the girl persuasion, and called Elizabeth.
  4. Hillary Clinton confirms she will run for US President.
  5. Kim Jong Un is deposed as leader of North Korea.
  6. The record for the highest temperature in the UK is broken.


  1. Sepp Blatter is not re-elected as president of FIFA.
  2. Chelsea win the English Premier League.
  3. Australia retain the Ashes.
  4. Germany win the women’s football World Cup in Canada.
  5. Oxford wins the University Boat Race, again.
  6. Cyprus comes top of the medal table in the keenly anticipated Games of the Small States of Europe in Reykjavik.

Science and technology

  1. Apple releases a MacBook Air with a retina display.
  2. The Dawn spacecraft discovers ice volcanoes on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres.
  3. The probe Philae on the surface of comet 67P emerges from hibernation sufficiently to send useful scientific data.
  4. Microsoft buys Fitbit.
  5. Dick Costolo leaves his position as CEO of Twitter.
  6. YouTube users upload over 500 hours of video per minute on average.


  1. Best Actor Oscar: Michael Keaton, Birdman.
  2. Best Actress Oscar: Julianne Moore, Still Alice.
  3. Best Picture Oscar: Birdman.
  4. Best Director Oscar: Richard Linklater, Boyhood.
  5. Best Visual Effects Oscar: Interstellar.
  6. The BBC says BBC 4 will follow BBC 3 and move online.

Celebrity deathwatch

  1. Dodgy FIFA boss before the other dodgy FIFA boss, João Havelange (98)
  2. Avenger before the other Avengers, actor Patrick Macnee (92)
  3. Dracula, Scaramanga, Saruman, Dooku, actor Christopher Lee (92)
  4. I’ve met him you know, comics elder Stan Lee (92)
  5. President Bush before the other President Bush, George HW Bush (90)
  6. Spock before the other Spock, actor Leonard Nimoy (82)
  7. Run out, umpire Dickie Bird (81)
  8. War criminal, ex-veep Dick Cheney (73)
  9. Floating like an ex-butterfly, stinging like an ex-bee, boxer Muhammad Ali (72)

Happy New Year!

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The invisible revolution

People generally notice that they’re taking part in a revolution. Barbarians-at-the-gates revolutions with Bolshevik oiks toppling Romanov nobs and their imperialist haemophiliac ways are self-evident thanks to the bodies in the streets and the widespread clampdown on interesting haberdashery. But we’re in the middle of a revolution now, a revolution most people aren’t even barely aware of.

Two skirmishes in this revolution have taken place in the last week. They’re not the first and won’t be the last, but they’re a classic demonstration of cluelessness from the Old Guard.

The first can be summarised in one word: Trafigura. You, like me, had probably not heard the name before this week. The first inkling I had of a percolating story was a tweet from Ben Goldacre suggesting that the Guardian had been gagged from reporting Parliament. The bare facts emerged pretty quickly: this tweet revealed all to me a short time later. What followed, and the story behind it, is well documented so I shan’t bother here. The salient point to make is: welcome to a different world. In this world, sufficient eyeballs routes around censorship. Maybe not immediately, but ultimately.

The second skirmish involves the Daily Mail and is ongoing. One of its columnists, Jan Moir, wrote a hateful story that appeared on Friday morning entitled Why there was nothing “natural” about Stephen Gately’s death. As with Trafigura an immediate twitstorm ensured that the bigotry was well publicised. Comments on a Daily Mail article are usually of the string-em-up, ship-em-back variety, but not on this one: the writer’s views were soundly condemned. The Daily Mail changed the story’s headline (but not its content) in an attempt to paper over the cracks, and the article’s author has issued a non-apology apology. But more importantly for the paper, companies have pulled their adverts from the story.

People power again, yes; big deal, nothing new. But it’s yet another demonstration of the crucial difference between the bolshies and the nobs. What Trafigura’s legal team Carter-Ruck and the Daily Mail’s journalists don’t get is that people – more people every day – now realise that power, real power, is bottom-up not top-down. That’s at the core of this revolution.

Jan Moir complains in her non-apology that there is “clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign” to accuse her of homophobia. Excuse me while I point and laugh at the deluded woman. The Daily Mail is itself massively guilty of orchestrating campaigns in a traditional top-down approach: it was the Daily Mail that hyped up the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross story, encouraging its readers to complain en masse to the relevant authorities about something they hadn’t themselves heard. That’s orchestration. Top-down.

Moir’s story about Gately offended individuals, who commented or tweeted or blogged to make their opinions known to others. Those others read the article themselves, made up their own minds, and communicated likewise. The network effect ensured that, pretty soon, word spread to connectors (to use Gladwell’s term from The Tipping Point) like Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan, Charlie Brooker and Derren Brown who have thousands of followers. Bottom-up. (I’m not using the word viral because that makes me think of marketing, and this is more fundamental.)

The same effect a few days earlier ensured everyone knew about Trafigura and its “super-injunction” gagging order on the media, even if they hadn’t read the Guardian and put two-and-two together. People also soon learned that Wikileaks held a copy of the Minton report, which says that Trafigura’s oil waste, dumped in west Africa, was potentially toxic. Meanwhile traditional media couldn’t even mention the report’s existence. Last night Trafigura caved again, since the ants had well and truly unstitched the bag to let out the potentially toxic pussy, and the Guardian became free to publish the report. Trafigura and Carter-Ruck bodged this up in as bodgy a way as it is possible to bodge, and questions are now being asked about how, on earth, could a judge issue such a super-injunction in the first place. And why do we have super-injunctions anyway?

Publicity about Moir’s article ensured the Press Complaints Commission web site was hammered out of existence for a time. But the PCC won’t do anything of consequence: it’s a toothless body, controlled by the newspapers themselves, that exists as a sop to politicans afraid to regulate an industry that knows all about their cupboard-based body parts. In any case its policy is to “normally accept complaints only from those who are directly affected by the matters about which they are complaining.” Which is handy.

The way to deal with the Daily Mail is, I hope by now, obvious: bottom-up. Continue to publicise its bigotry and hatred. Make its advertisers pull out.

The two incidents I’ve highlighted aren’t isolated cases. Earlier in the year a single tweet by Graham Linehan started off a “we love the NHS” campaign on Twitter to fight back against uninformed or deceitful comments from those on the side of private health insurers in the US healthcare debate. Many right-wingers in the UK proved they Just Didn’t Get It by claiming this was a Labour party campaign: nope. Bottom-up, not top-down.

Perhaps I’m being idealistic. Perhaps this is merely a Prague Spring of freedom before the tanks roll in. But I don’t think so. People may not be brandishing pitchforks but change is afoot and the world will be a very different place in ten years or so. At the moment we’re still clanking our way to the summit of the rollercoaster, and don’t have the faintest idea what’ll happen on the way down.


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A for ‘orses

I’ve been awarded the first A-level in Twitter Studies. Grade A, naturally. It was a tough course: modules in Signing Up, Following Stephen Fry, Publishing Tedious Tweets About Your Life, Tweeting and Retweeting Just The More Interesting Things, and finally the most advanced module, Getting On Channel 4 News.

It’s a relatively new subject, I’d be surprised if you’d heard of it. The only accredited qualfications agency is Avaragado’s A-levels and Argentinian Aardvark Acupuncture Analysis and Associates, more commonly known as A7. It’s based somewhere between Edinburgh and Carlisle. Frankly I suspect most of its business currently comes from the aardvark acupuncture side, which is very big in South America – outpacing the much lamer Lima llama loom industry.

Like thousands of 18-year-olds across the nation, I waited in front of TV cameras and local newspaper reporters for the letter telling me my grades. But they just took pictures of screeching girls called Jocasta, as usual. I screeched alone, hugging myself and sending myself excited texts. I didn’t tweet myself; what do you think I am, some kind of nerd?

One whiskered-and-whiskeyed old hack belched me a question: did I think A-levels were getting easier? I threw the question back at him: did he think A-levels were easier? Yes, he said. Congratulations, I replied: have an A-level. 98% of students can’t be wrong. Apparently.

It’s no surprise I received an A in Twitter Studies: one in four entries gets an A. And grades are up for the 27th glorious year in a row! That proves students are getting more intelligent. Don’t listen to the doom-mongers and wishy-washy so-called “scientists” at Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring who have spent the last twenty years looking at this question and have so-called “data” to indicate that D-grade students of the late 80s would now get Bs, and probably As in Maths subjects. Don’t stop this so-called “evidence” from piling more and more students into universities.

Next year some clevers clogs will do especially well and get one of the new-fangled A* grades, and no doubt more students will get As overall. And in a few years I imagine there’ll be an A**, then an A***, and then everyone will receive an A for every exam and Her Majesty’s Media will be overjoyed at how successful our students are. Meanwhile the universities will cross out A*** and write A, cross out A** and write B, cross out A* and write C, and cross out A and write D, and we can start all over again.

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