The growing disconnect between social media use and broadcast media convention on election days

I’ve absolutely loved being part of the Daily Mirror and Ampp3d’s coverage of the Scottish Independence Referendum. And right now, I’ve got quite a good few hours of coverage ahead of me still. As polls close, here’s some thoughts on what today has been like.

Covering the Scottish Independence Referendum today has been both astounding and strangely quiet – thanks to the way our Electoral Law and the 21st Century are sitting together uncomfortably.

I tweeted early in the day…

The Today programme this morning, even before polls opened, said “we aren’t talking about the referendum” and then did a paper review based on “what else is in the papers”. And TV is forced into a bland holding pattern.

I totally understand why this happens – a mixture of obviously correct fears about the effect broadcast media could have on an election-in-progress, plus a convention that we’ll all hang-back-a-bit on the day even before the polls open.


Out there on social media. Any member of the electorate in the land – or in this rather special case outside the land being polled – is free to campaign and urge and cajole on what is effectively the same online “broadcast media” the BBC or the Mirror or Buzzfeed or HuffPo or Wings Over Scotland use.

And as an employee at a media organisation you get into an odder space personally.

I wanted to tweet out the piece I’d written on here about the #Indyref a couple of weeks ago, but in the end the chilling effect of “election day convention” is that I slightly worry someone might complain that someone employed by the Mirror tweeted out something that might be considered compaign-y from their personal account during polling hours. So I didn’t.

I mean, I’m 99.9% sure it would have been fine to do so. But imagine the email chain and form-filling if you get just one complaint that you’ve misused your personal account during an election day. *Sighs*

All of which:

  1. Did not stop the piece being freely available at the URL
  2. Did not stop anybody in the whole world tweeting it out if they so wished. Apart from me.

And it puts media organisations in an odd position. If someone Googled “Scottish Referendum latest opinion polls” today, they would have found endless links to pages available on the web from news organisations with lots of details about the figures and margin of errors and this and that.

But if I tweeted out from the Ampp3d account a link to one of our articles from yesterday about the state of the polls, well, we’re sailing very close to “publishing” them again, and potential choppy legal waters.

Again, I doubt that the authorities would come swinging by Canary Wharf to arrest me for the tweet, but I can’t be concretely certain, and obviously, caution wins the day.

But, oh, the rest of you. In contrast to a lot of what was coming out of the MSM during polling hours, the colour and vibrancy of people on Twitter saying “I voted this way” or people gleefully retweeting “I was going to vote No and at the last moment changed my mind to Yes” really now adds something new to election days that mainstream media are just unable to do. Or even really link to very much during the course of the day.

To be honest, it makes for a very unsatisfactory experience if your job is “covering the politics happening on the internet, on the internet”. It’s a world far-removed from TV/radio broadcast or even print production, but we are hitched to the same wagon as far as law and regulation are concerned.

I don’t have an answer, of course. The safeguards are there for a very good reason, even if they may need a little bit of tweaking around the edges.

But I’ve got to say that covering the #IndyRef for the Daily Mirror and Ampp3d has been a fantastic experience. Even playing a tiny part in such a vibrant campaign from the other end of the island that I live on has felt energising about politics. I only hope we can keep a little of the enthusiasm of the electorate going into the General Election next year. And personally, I’m really looking forward to playing a role in the Mirror’s coverage of that too.

Good luck, Scotland, and thank you.