When Donald Tusk, then President of the European Council, wanted to send a public message to set the tone of the Brexit negotiations in 2018 – he took to Twitter, and quoted Freddie Mercury. It was clever, it was culturally astute, the message could be conveyed in 280 characters, and it went straight into journalists’ pieces.

It was intended for those across the table from Tusk in London, those across the table in the Member States of the European Union, and it needed saying in public – because he sought to set the mood within the public political discussion about the issue as well. Saying it to his UK counterparts on WhatsApp would not have the same effect.

Tusk’s successor Michel has lacked that communication skill, but with a successor to Michel due by the end of 2024, the question is on my mind is this: to which channel is that person going to turn? And – by extension – to which channel are Commissioners and MEPs going to turn? What about journalists with a focus on EU affairs? And, beyond those people, what about the campaigners and NGOs and lobbyists whose job it is to follow Brussels EU politics every day?

I’ve examined Twitter’s demise before, and examined how we might reach a tipping point when more high level politicians abandon it. But I think to answer what comes next, we need to ask a little more what functions Twitter had that turned out to be so useful and now, with two developments with two alternatives to Musk’s beast, can begin to answer what might be next.

First, a social network for news about politics is going to have to be predominantly text based. Instagram or Tiktok might be increasingly important for communication with voters, but those are not going to be the place you are going to go as a politician to send a message to your counterparts in another capital. It’s not even a case of politicians needing to get the skills or the staff for videos, reels and stories – it’s simply quicker to hammer out a message in text.

Second, the network needs to be easily searchable in its entirety – regardless who you are personally connected with. The corollary of this is that it allows content from the edges of the network to be drawn into the heart of the network if and when that content is important. Think of that video that was posted when Hillary Clinton was ill during the election against Trump that was everywhere on Twitter, despite being posted by someone peripheral. You tried searching LinkedIn, Mastodon or Facebook lately? They don’t come close.

Third, algorithms might be useful for irregular users of a network, but intensive users need chronological feeds as well for intense users – and related to that there needs to be some understanding of what is or is not going to be removed from the network, and that the owner of the network is somehow fair in terms of what they will tolerate, and that political discussion is even welcome.

Fourth, the content on the network can easily be shared and embedded elsewhere, allowing content to easily used in news stories.

And so that brings us to the news this week that Meta’s platforms – Instagram and its Twitter rival Threads – will no longer promote political content. I am not that bothered here as to whether Meta will succeed (they probably will not, at least not fully). But that they are even trying is interesting, and if politics is your business, ought to be worry enough to give their platforms a wide berth (if the other reasons were not cause enough already). Meta’s biases regarding conflict in Israel, as repeatedly documented by Andrew Stroehlein, ought to be enough to give us cause for concern – do politics on an algorithm dominated platform where someone else sets the rules and you are setting yourself up with problems.

So where does that leave us?

Forget Instagram (Meta, algorithm-only feeds, not text based), forget Threads (Meta, algorithm-only feeds), forget LinkedIn (algorithm-only feeds, not searchable, content not embeddable), forget Twitter-X (Musk, disinformation).

For the moment Mastodon doesn’t cut it either (still impossible to find anything, no algorithms).

Which leaves us with… Bluesky. Now open for anyone to join. Combination of chronological feeds and a way to build your own algorithm based feeds. Content that is embeddable in public web pages. Developing federation to guard against a malevolent billionaire take over. And search works just about well enough.

If you’re Michel’s successor, or their comms advisor, that’s where I would go now. Although remember, also in the words of Freddie Mercury, if it’s planned it’s boring.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *