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The Europe Roundup: The (Fake) Tweet That Changed the Election

BY Antonella Napolitano | Monday, November 7 2011

  • Ireland | The (Fake) Tweet That Changed the Election
    Last week, the people of Ireland elected Michael Higgins as president. Until a week before the elections, Higgins, a poet and former minister of arts, had been trailing frontrunner Seán Gallagher, a businessman,  by 15 percentage points in the polls.
    During a tv debate, though, something happened and a fake Twitter account was the fuel that make a campaign implode.

    The frontrunner was accused by another candidate of collecting a €5,000 cheque from a businessman, Hugh Morgan, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, Gallagher's former party (in this election he ran as an independent), in exchange for a private audience with the Taoiseach, the Irish Prime Minister. Moreover Morgan claims that it was Gallagher who asked him for the money.
    Gallagher denied the allegations, but during a break in the TV debate this tweet came out:

    Screenshot from Owni.eu website

    On Owni.eu Aidan MacGuill explains what happened then:

    When the allegation was made during the debate Gallagher initially denied it, lamenting the “negative campaigning” that was distracting from the substantive issues of the election. But returning from an ad break, the moderator read out a tweet he had been informed had been sent from Martin McGuinness’ official Twitter account. [...] 

    Asked if he would like to change his story, Gallagher was visibly rattled. He now admitted he knew Mr. Morgan, who he described as a convicted criminal, but denied any memory of collecting the cheque. Then, to audible gasps and laughter from the audience, Gallagher admitted he may have picked up an “envelope”. After decades of revelations about cronyism and corruption amongst the Irish political elite, the phrase “brown envelope” is something of a safe word for the Irish electorate. In an instant, Gallagher had painted himself amongst that tradition of political dishonesty and corruption, and in so doing had effectively killed his campaign.

    On the following day Gallagher declared that he had nothing to do with the cheque and the Twitter account proved to be a fake one, but the damage had been done.
    While this should not be considered a lesson on the power of social media, it is certainly proof that Twitter is quickly getting attention from mainstream media and even starting to get considered as a possible news source.
    More background provided on Owni.eu's website.

  • Italy | When MPs start livetweeting...
    Last Friday L'Espresso, one of the most important political magazines in Italy, ran a story on OpenCamera, an informal group of Deputies that has started tweeting on the happenings of the Chamber of Deputies in this particular troubled time for the country.

    The initiative had in fact been started months ago by MP Andrea Sarubbi (Democratic Party, currently the main opposition party) who started use the hashtag #opencamera ("Camera" is Italian for "Chamber"). Only in the past weeks, however, has the group grown to include some colleagues from his party and from the Christian Democrats Party, also part of the opposition. Even one Deputy from The Northern League, currently allied with embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is now involved.

    Sarubbi explained to L'Espresso that this should be just a normal step for a member of the Parliament:

    We provide what for me is a public service: my colleagues began to tease me because I was always on the computer [checking tweets], but now they ask me how to use these tools. Citizens are hungry for political participation and the web, if used properly, offers a significant opportunity for politicians. 

    The OpenCamera group may prove useful in showing an attempt to create a dialogue with citizens: L'Espresso reports that a recent study by the World Economic Forum states that Italy is 127th out of 142 countries when it comes to its politicians' credibility.

    And Deputies may certainly prove a first-hand source of news: yesterday the OpenCamera MPs were the first to announce that two of their colleagues had left Berlusconi's party to join the Christian Democrats, an event that may be crucial for the Italian government to stay in power.
    And the tweets didn't go unnoticed by both mainstream media and the growing and very active Italian Twitter community (that has been using the hashtag for a while now).

    The experiment is spreading in the not-so-young-and-tech-savvy (as it is frequently called) Italian political class: an OpenSenate group has just started and local councillors are following.
    "Liveblogging the Parliament's activities require time and attention. I'm usually the last leaving because I want to answer quickly to people's tweets. But it is a way to let people know that we are working, either in the  House or in the committees." concludes Sarubbi.

  • Austria | Poetry for Open Government
    Wanna try a brand new way to promote open government? Start a poetry contest!
    On EPSI platform Ton Zijlstra explains the unusual initiative:

    The Austrian open government data community has started a poetry contest on open government:

    "Under the slogan Poems for Participation (and global peace ) the network Open3.at just started the first worldwide Open Government poetry contest. The goal is to support the topic Open Government in a striking and humorous way – the more contributions, the better!

    Deadline: December 10th, 2011. Winners are awarded several prizes from books to tech gadgets.

    All published poems will be handed over anonymised to the spokesmen of technology and culture of the Austrian parties. 

    This is not the first attempt of this kind: Zijlstra says that the Kenyan open data community create an 'Open Data Song' to launch of the Kenyan open data portal.

Plus
This week is Open Data Week in Ireland!