‘Politics For All’The Changing Face of News Media
Sam Bright investigates the suspension of the controversial Twitter account, while Katherine Denkinson speaks to insiders about the evolution of the platform
The festive period often produces strange news stories. As the politics agenda lulls and MPs hibernate for Christmas, journalists are forced to find tales in odd and uncommon places.
This year has been no different, with a central topic of political conversation being the suspension of a Twitter account called ‘Politics For All’, along with a number of its sister platforms – including ‘News For All’ and ‘Football For All’.
The suspension has provoked a debate about Politics For All – which gained a formidable Twitter following of some 450,000 users – with people now scrutinising how the account disseminated news.
Applying tabloid techniques to Twitter, Politics For All shared snippets of news stories, often selecting the most sensational feature of an article to generate maximum attention. It followed up with a link to the original story – a method that is accused of depriving publishers of content proper credit for their work.
Some commentators have dismissed the debate over Politics For All as silly and irrelevant – yet its suspension and impact prior to this – illuminates the nature of the modern media climate, which amplifies noise over knowledge, often thrusting inexperienced actors into positions of public prominence, while social media giants act with seeming impunity when removing accounts that breach their rules.
By any metric, Politics For All was a social media Goliath. Its tweets were allegedly seen 800 million times a month, according to individuals familiar with the page, and were regularly shared by MPs, ministers and senior journalists. The tempo of political debate is arguably set on Twitter, and Politics For All is was one of its most influential players.
Byline Times exclusively revealed last March that Politics For All was run by Nick Moar – a university student who has expressed sympathetic views towards Brexit and the Conservative Party. He has since taken on a social media role at the Spectator – the right-wing magazine formerly edited by Boris Johnson. Moar hasn’t responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.
Former Football For All administrator James Kelly – who also worked briefly on News For All – posted a note on Twitter on 2 January, offering his thoughts on the suspension – suggesting that the ‘For All’ collective has a “toxic” fascination with “clickbait” and accusing Moar of having “no sympathy” when sacking administrators from his accounts.
Byline Times has spoken to other former administrators who highlight problems with the For All collective. One said that, over time, he increasingly disagreed with the content of the Politics For All channel – its clickbait style and the frequency with which it posted betting advertisements.
The former administrators also told Byline Times that they were paid small amounts for their work – typically £75 a month – with most appearing to have been in their late-teens and early 20s. All seem to maintain that it was a good opportunity, despite the downsides.
The information shared by former administrators also appeared to challenge the idea that Politics For All purposefully skewed to the right in its coverage of current affairs. One former administrator shared an editorial guide which told staff members to ensure balance on the account.
“If we have a few anti-government [posts] then we need a pro-government post and vice versa”, it states. The guide also warned administrators to ensure balance in the news sources that are posted on the channel.
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However, the platform’s moderation systems appear to be rudimentary, with occasional feedback and quality-checking offered by more senior members of the team – risking the content of the account being swayed by the political predilections of its administrators.
Indeed, it appears that considerable internal controversy was generated from one tweet, posted by Politics For All in October, in which the account accused iNHouse communications of being an “awful organisation”.
Screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation between For All administrators, sent to Byline Times, quote Moar as saying that he was “pretty f**ked” that iNHouse did not let him into an event and so he was trying to “p**s them off” by posting the tweet.
Moar apologises to the team in the WhatsApp chain and admits that the tweet was “definitely an L [loss]”. Politics For All also apologised on Twitter at the time and made a donation to a refugee charity at the request of iNHouse.
Byline Times has also heard that individuals in Downing Street monitor Politics For All and were particularly annoyed by its coverage of recent scandals involving Boris Johnson’s administration, particularly the attention it gave to numerous parties hosted in Whitehall during the 2020 Christmas lockdown period.
The entire For All collective was suspended from Twitter on 2 January. Several people involved in the operation have told Byline Times that Twitter had not given an official reason to the organisation for its suspension, as of midday yesterday.
Online speculation had suggested that the accounts may have been suspended either for copyright infringements or for breaching advertising rules – though the Press Gazette has revealed that it violated rules on ‘platform manipulation and spam’. The For All collective is appealing the decision.
Politics For None?
The case of Politics For All is a parable of the modern media landscape. It shows how a group of savvy social media operators can gain a mass following without any institutional or financial backing – a process that has liberated politics from the clutches of legacy publishers. A national conversation between a few journalists at oligarch-owned publications has now been opened up to the masses.
However, there are drawbacks.
Social media has in many ways encouraged the tabloidisation of the news – warping the dissemination of public information by boosting sensational, politically-charged stories through algorithms orientated around clicks, shares and short soundbites. It seems strange that Twitter has suspended the For All collective for ‘platform manipulation’ when it was simply exploiting the clickbait machine that Twitter has itself helped to create.
And while social media has promoted a form of openness, it has also normalised anonymity. Twitter allows anyone to become a publisher, asking for minimal information from its users. Therefore, Politics For All could hide the identity of its administrators – preventing its audience from scrutinising the backgrounds of the people running the account, including their qualifications and any conflicts of interest they may hold.
Byline Times was criticised in some quarters for revealing Moar’s identity as the founder of Politics For All, but this attitude misreads the influence of the platform, which has a far greater reach than many old media outlets. Politics For All is a newsreader of our times, and the identity of its correspondents should be publicly known.
Twitter’s treatment of Politics For All similarly chimes with longstanding concerns about social media giants and their approach towards suspending transgressors. Twitter seemingly suspended the For All collective without warning and without explanation – using rules that are vaguely defined and poorly publicised.
Twitter’s rules state: “We define platform manipulation as using Twitter to engage in bulk, aggressive, or deceptive activity that misleads others and/or disrupts their experience”. Misleading activity is rife on Twitter, and the platform’s application of this rule certainly isn’t consistent.
In a world in which projects, businesses and media platforms are forged online, social media companies have vast power over the lives of their users. The Twitter account of the Northern Independence Party was locked in late November, for instance, after it called for COVID-19 vaccine patents to be made freely available. A month earlier, the left-wing outlet Novara Media was temporarily suspended from YouTube “without warning or explanation”. A permanent ban would have seriously damaged the company, given its 166,000 subscribers on the platform.
Just as political conventions have been rewritten in recent years, so have the rules of the media industry. The new status quo is more free and democratic in some respects, but it is also plagued by distortion, underwritten by the ethical and editorial judgements of commercial giants. Some things have changed; others certainly haven’t.
Additional reporting by Katherine Denkinson