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How to avoid Twitter indiscretions of the politico kind

I&B ministry babus have been packed off to UK to learn media management — but politicians on the whole could do with some tips on social media. Satbir Singh reports.

social media Updated: Feb 25, 2012 23:12 IST
Satbir Singh
Micro-blogging-site-Twitter-was-founded-in-March-2006
Micro-blogging-site-Twitter-was-founded-in-March-2006

Whether he was upbeat (veni, vidi, vici) or a trifle low (et tu, brute), Caesar uttered perhaps the most quoted three-word phrases over time. Nowadays, in conversation , ‘go f*ck yourself’ seems to have taken over.


Historically, politicians around the world have communicated with a brevity of expression that would make even the most frequent Twitter user admire them. “Uncle Sam needs you” (20 characters). “I have a dream” (not quite political, but 15). “Quit India” (11). “Garibi hatao” (13). “Roti, kapda aur makaan” (23). “Yes, we can” (12). I’ll be back (by someone who later became a politician, 13). Winston Churchill, went a step further and made the letter ‘V’ trend eternally by just using his fingers. Today’s socially connected world might call that a twitpic.

What happened to political leaders that the best under-140-character quote they can offer now is ‘I was misquoted’? And when appalling photographs of personal, physical attributes become public, ‘that isn’t me.’

The internet has changed things. Leaders are no longer passively read about in the paper over tea or watched on news over dinner. Not only does social media act as a powerful force multiplier with hundreds of thousand discussions within hours, search continues to add fuel to the fire for weeks. Bit of a disaster then, for anyone generous with words, uttered or typed.

Remember Shashi Tharoor and the ‘cattle class’ quip. The poor man was replying to a tweet and he merely echoed the phrase. Of course, he added the holy cows bit on his own. It may not be too much of a stretch to wonder if more people associate him with that tweet or his contribution at UN.

How about Sushma Swaraj's alleged ‘heart of stone’ reference to Mayawati? The lady has since spent considerable time denying it, including on Twitter. The latter, not known for quietness, maintained stone-faced silence though.

Even J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah is quite social media savvy and fairly active. He too had stirred up controversy with his take on the Tamil Nadu assembly’s resolution on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins.

While one-on-one communicate is best, it’s a good idea to be virtually available. Open a social media account. It’s easier than opening a bank account. Have something to say. @HRClinton has a smiling Hillary saluting her 32,000 followers. But the Secretary of State has zero tweets.

If you enjoy that sundowner, avoid the temptation to do what is called drunktweeting. You see, we do not like our representatives doing what we do.

As much as possible, get outdated mobilephones. Preferably the ones that resemble bricks. They come without cameras. Very handy in those lonely moments when the overwhelming urge is to dash across photographs of what you’d think are your best assets.

If you innocently upload exotic food shots from equally exotic restaurants, you’ll be reminded about the hungry millions. If you show off your new car, you’ll be told how autos refuse to go by metred fare. Photographs from your kid’s wedding will get hate messages for spending way too much. Vacation snaps will earn rejoinders about the drought in your constituency.

Know that the power of compounding is at work best on social media. A few thousand followers can relay a piece of news and cover the planet a couple of times within hours.

Admit a faux pas. Remember a few million have documentary evidence in tweets, status updates and YouTube videos. Besides saying sorry somehow gets people to like you more. In any case, as Churchill said: Eating words has never given me indigestion. Or, as Manmohan Singh said: nothing.

— The author is Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Euro RSCG India