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April 22, 2010

Prime ministers and media moguls, ignore MrsNickClegg and #NickCleggsFault at your peril

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 1:44 pm

Ever since the Lib Dem leader saw off his political foes in the live debate seven days ago, I’ve been a voyeuristic rider on the Nick Clegg storm.

I’ve learned of his family history (his great grandfather was an Imperial Russian count), his next door neighbour (former Tory foreign secretary Lord Carrington), his school friends (Louis Theroux) and his first employer and mentor (Tory EU commissioner Leon Brittan).

In just seven days he went from zero to hero in the nation’s media spotlight and then back to zero again. For Nick, a week is indeed a long time in politics.

On twitter I stumbled over MrsNickClegg, who is a delightfully sassy, risqué, salsa-loving Spanish tweetstress who rants on endlessly about “her Nick”, the election and other latin-tinged idiosyncracies.

She talks of dinner parties with Eno (he talks endlessly of Bono, Bono, Bono), hiring film star Chrisopher Walken to scare off “filthy Tory” and believes that today’s Telegraph coverage of Clegg’s cash payment misdemeanour is a “a tiny storm in a glass of Rioja”.

Some of her rants are very funny, close to the bone and almost certainly not by Mrs Nick Clegg. But the dialogue is clearly someone with Lib Dem sympathies or possibly someone in the Lib Dem camp. It would be a canny piece of social network marketing and electioneering to keep the Nick Clegg profile high by inventing a wifely doppelganger.

Just possibly, though, she could actually be Mrs Nick Clegg.

Furthermore, with the perfect storm of anti-Nick Clegg headlines on the front pages of the right wing media today – the Sun, Express, Telegraph and Daily Mail all having a go at him or his policies – an ingenious perfect storm of ironic reaction swept through twitter networks to emerge later onto office emails, intranets, facebook accounts and latterly into the Guardian as a hastily written column http://bit.ly/aF5w4n.

Out of nowhere #nickcleggsfault was the most popular hashtag in the UK. It had gone truly viral. In a popular revolt against the national newspapers, a wonderful outbreak of British caustic wit blamed Nick Clegg for everything from the death of Diana and missing your exit junction on the M69 to “my wife wants a divorce and it’s…”. All these misfortunes and much much more were #nickcleggsfault.

Surely never have so many right wing newspapers given such a helping hand to the very object of their derision. Media commentators stress that editors and politicians are unruffled by social networking sites. But they ignore them at their peril. Much of the content can swiftly catapault into the real world.

#nickcleggsfault is a reaction to a possible huge own goal by sections of the media and could signal the arrival of social media as an emerging political force (albeit a gag-strewn one) for change. Whether the Lib Dem’s comms team set up #nickcleggsfault or not is beside the point. If they did, it worked. If they didn’t, it worked.

The question media studies bods are asking is can twitter be more than just a network for gossip and viral marketing? Can it encourage participation and dialogue for social change?

Maybe we’ve just seen evidence of that.

It was former Times editor Harold Evans who once said the Sun is so widely read because the people reading it know they’re cleverer than the people writing it.

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