The CBC’s Mark Gollom called me a few weeks ago. He wanted my input on a piece he was writing about which Twitter accounts the federal party leaders are following. It was a fun conversation because it allowed us to conduct a pseudo-personality assessment of our leaders based on who they choose (and choose not) to follow on Twitter.
The article has spawned a lively, er, discussion with a significant amount of criticism. Commenters are questioning its newsworthiness. I will assume many people failed to see this as a human interest story about an online tool which is fast becoming something of a bellwether for public opinion measurement and shaping.
People entrenched in digital culture know that even though they may not serve as endorsements, the accounts you follow certainly give some indication of your interests. So, it should be no surprise that what we perceive/know about our federal leaders is fully supported by this theory.
Still, who they follow may not actually be who they follow. While it may be a public declaration of their interests and curiosities, the following shouldn’t be labelled as endorsements (no more than you might believe seeing a movie would declare your endorsement of the work of the entire cast and crew). It’s worth noting that anyone can follow any number of public Twitter accounts without using the “follow” feature just by visiting the user’s Twitter page or adding that account to a private list.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper (following 224 accounts)
The Prime Minister follows mostly members of the Conservative caucus and conservative friendlies, some journalists, a few organizations (including the Blue Jays and Canadian Curling Association) and Homer Simpson. Yup. The one account which suggests some pop-culture interests is good old Homer.
There are some interesting finds among the list of accounts the Prime Minister is following. Those include SocialBro (a tool we use at FullDuplex.ca), the Senate of Canada (early warning signs, perhaps), Artists for Autism (a cause dear to the late Finance Minster Jim Flaherty), and the estranged conservative stalwart Dmitri Soudas.
Missing are obvious accounts including those belonging to various chambers of commerce, Canadian innovation and other industry. With the exception of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the PM doesn’t follow any leaders (including President Obama or Prime Minister Cameron). Perhaps the most shocking, given the PM’s fascination with hockey, is there are no hockey teams, leagues or players among the accounts he’s following.
Analysis: Very focused and controlled, mostly business rather than fun, missed opportunities to further declare partnerships, interests and non-political personality.
Thomas Mulcair (following 1,195 accounts)
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair follows the greatest number of Twitter accounts among the “big three” leaders. His following list suggests a wider range of interests than the PM’s. Mr. Mulcair follows members of his caucus, a healthy number of journalists and news organizations from a variety of biases, and a number of economic and sport related accounts including the Economic Club of Canada, Google Canada, Special Olympics and the Juno Beach Centre. Other notable accounts in his following list include those belonging to the Library of Parliament Research team, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and OpenMedia.
Mr. Mulcair follows a number of accounts which boast incomplete profiles, some of which haven’t ever issued a tweet. These jump out on the screen because they may or may not have a human name associated with them and the image is the default Twitter egg (waiting to be hatched into a fully tweeting account).
Analysis: Declaring interest in building relationships with all aspects of corporate and grassroots Canada, aware that people are looking at his accounts to see if he’s really a Canadian leader or a left-leaning leader, sloppy in some of his decisions.
Justin Trudeau (following 753 accounts)
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has the most eclectic mix of accounts among the list of accounts he follows. It suggests a much broader range of interests and a lot of affiliation with personalities rather than a laser focus on associations and organizations. So, on top of the requisite caucus members, media and some obvious Canadian institutions and organizations, you’ll see names of Canadian celebrities including Kim Cattrall, Bryan Adams, K’naan, Bif Naked and Kevin Nealon, and athletes including Nicole Garrido and Shannon Rempel.
Mr. Trudeau follows members of other political parties and US politicians including the social media famous Cory Booker. His list includes Michael Sona (charged in connection with the Pierre Poutine scandal) and Conservative strategist Tim Powers. He’s the only of the three big leaders who follows a large number of international celebrities and leaders including George Takei, Salman Rushdie, Stephen King and the Dalai Lama. The fun accounts on his list include Ed the Sock and the Elizabeth Windsor parody account which, today, granted Canada the day off (“You deserve it.”)
He also follows the Blackberry Help account.
Analysis: Grew up with an interest in pop-culture and proud of it recognizing it may help him attract support from historitcally disinterested and disaffected Canadians, perhaps a bit too focused on personality with less declaration of policy strength. Still, he knows digital culture and online success is tightly connected to relatability which builds trust.