Wednesday 1.35pm. Someone logs into the newly-created account “KevinRuddPM” and types “Looking forward to communicating with you on Twitter“. Thus did our Prime Minister enter the crazy hyperconnected global front bar cum water cooler conversation that is the Twitterverse.
It took a couple of hours for word to spread and for KevinRuddPM to gather his first ten “followers”. But soon the numbers grew. People said their greetings, asked questions and offered opinions — and most of the opinions were calling for an end to the Internet filtering trials. Smart-arses like me even offered snarky advice.
By mid-evening, KevinRuddPM had more than 700 followers. Those hanging out for a response eagerly devoured the second Prime Ministerial tweet: “Thanks to everyone for adding me on Twitter.” [My reaction: OMFG! Kevin Rudd tweeted again!] And then all the followers suddenly disappeared. Huh?
Next day The Age reported that high demand had “crashed” KevinRuddPMâ€™s Twitter “page”, quoting Ruddâ€™s spokeswoman as saying, “It’s because Twitter essentially is not used to people getting so many followers in such a short time.”
Not true. Twitter comfortably copes with stars like Al Gore and Stephen Fry attracting thousands of new followers an hour. Much as a political ego might like to think their popularity is overwhelming, it wasn’t a crash. Twitterâ€™s overly-zealous anti-spam system had kicked in when KevinRuddPM followed back all his followers in a sudden burst.
Still, the big question was whether KevinRuddPM was actually Mr call-me-Kevin Rudd himself typing, like Opposition leader TurnbullMalcolm, or an unnamed staffer. Turnbull has been using Twitter for a month and, after initially banal tweets like “reading the morning papers” he’s getting into the swing of it, replying to questions and posting links to his speeches.
Meanwhile DowningStreet is operated by three people from Gordon Brown’s digital media team. While faceless minions, they still manage to inject real personality into the role with tweets like “Among the crowds in the UN basement the PM has an unplanned catch up with Bono and Bob Geldof, here to push the development agenda” and “No10 admin is on a rain soaked freeway in New York. The sky is a bank of featureless grey cloud as the PM heads into the city”.
KevinRuddPM’s profile isnâ€™t at all clear on this question, which is a mistake. His spokeswoman didn’t know either. She’d “need to come back with information on whether Mr Rudd updates Twitter himself,” The Age wrote.
KevinRuddPM sits on a cusp. Used well, the PM’s Twitter account could be like John Howard and talkback radio, speaking over the heads of “the media” directly to the people. Used badly, it’ll look like another lame government attempt to be hip and cool, like dad dancing at your 21st. The Twitterverse awaits with bated breath.