Tipping the Balance of Power

Social Media and the Transformation of Political Journalism

Authored by: Marcel Broersma , Todd Graham

The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics

Print publication date:  December  2015
Online publication date:  December  2015

Print ISBN: 9781138860766
eBook ISBN: 9781315716299
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506560


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When, during a campaign visit to Rochester, a small town in Kent, Emily Thornberry tweeted a photo of a house covered with St. George’s flags and a white van in front of it, she didn’t imagine this swift and impulsive act would cause a scandal. “It was just trying to give, to the people who follow me on Twitter, a kind of picture of what the Rochester by-election is like,” the British Labour MP and shadow attorney-general explained somewhat disconcertedly to the Guardian in November 2014. Her political opponents, ranging from UKIP leader Nigel Farage to Tory MPs and fellow Labour politicians, quickly responded on Twitter to disqualify her tweet as snobbish. Because the English flag and the ‘white van man’ are considered emblematic for the British working classes, they argued that it showed how elitist and disconnected with the man in the street the Labour party is. ‘Derogatory’, ‘dismissive’ and ‘disgraceful’, they called it, while Farage even suggested that the post let Labour leader Ed “Milliband’s mask slip” (Mason 2014: para. 4). While Thornberry’s tweet went viral on Twitter, it was only a question of minutes until what would now become an affair was picked up by political journalists. Articles based on the postings from Twitter appeared on websites and somewhat later in the newspapers and broadcast news. The general sentiment was that the tweet “cemented the impression that Thornberry, who lives in a £3 million house in Islington, was part of the insufferable quinoa-munching metropolitan elite” (Wallop 2015: para. 21). That same evening, Emily Thornberry resigned from the shadow cabinet and was demoted to the back benches in Westminster.

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