diamond geezer

 Saturday, May 04, 2019

On Thursday evening, around 8pm, Boris Johnson tweeted this.

That's interesting, I thought. It's not Local Elections Day in London, where I know he lives.

Boris's tweet came with a video, which I clicked on but wouldn't play. This led me to discover that his tweet had been deleted, but I still had a copy in my timeline so I screenshotted it for safe-keeping. It looked quite tweetworthy. I wondered how best to proceed.

I wrote a condescending comment to accompany the image, without directly accusing him of lying, then wondered about two things. Firstly, did Boris have a house anywhere else? I Googled 'where does Boris Johnson live" but that was unhelpful, as you'd hope where matters of privacy are concerned. Secondly, should I mention that the tweet had been deleted? I saw the deletion as some kind of admission of guilt, but couldn't shoehorn in a snappy way of mentioning it so left it out. Time is of the essence with reactionary tweets, so I went ahead and fired off what I had. It was 8.14pm.

Normally not much happens when I tweet. In this case I got a steady dribble of likes and retweets, and replies along the lines of
» hes a busy man voted early didnt he
» sharp as a knife the bloated moron
» He’s deleted the tweet now. What a buffoon.
» You don't really think that Johnson would actually live in Uxbridge, do you? He probably voted near that house in Somerset he forgot he had.
» It’s a fun slag. But I’m pretty sure he lives in the Shires.
But the likes and retweets carried on, which doesn't often happen. Then the tweet caught the eye of one or two political journalists, which boosted the likes and amplification rather more. And this delivered a few more responses of this ilk...
» Lives in Oxfordshire
» Boris has a house in Oxfordshire. Der.
» But where does he "live"? Isn't his home in Oxfordshire somewhere?
One of these comments was from an LBC presenter who was on air at the time, and he was likely to know his stuff. I Googled again, and yes Boris bought a farmhouse outside Thame in 2003, so has a house in Oxfordshire as well as a house in Islington. It's fine to be on two electoral rolls so long as you only vote once per election. So there was a good reason why Boris might have voted, perfectly legally, and then tweeted about it. But why did he delete it?

Mine is not the tweet that went viral. That honour went to comedy writer James Felton who took a more factual approach. He noted that Boris's deleted tweet had been captured on a website that specialises in capturing deleted tweets, and highlighted this along with some explanatory commentary. It was 9.24pm.

I suspect James's tweet is based on mine because he mentions Boris being Mayor of London, and him deleting his tweet after being informed about the lack of elections in the capital. I have no complaints at not being referenced. This undoubtedly helped keep the angry nutters and abusive complainants elsewhere.

But look closer - Boris's tweet was only live for 'half a minute', so I'd been damned lucky to have spotted it in the first place. I suspect he might even have got away with his deletion if I hadn't! Also note that the second part of James's tweet is unproven. Boris can't have deleted his tweet in response to tweeted feedback - mine or anybody else's - there simply wasn't time. No, he must have suddenly thought better of it, or been directly nudged, and rushed to remove the evidence.

Sixteen thousand retweets and thirty thousand likes gets you noticed, and pretty soon the mainstream media were reporting on Boris's deleted tweet. The Daily Mail got in early, followed by the Daily Mirror and Manchester Evening News, since followed up by the Guardian, the i, the Metro and the Evening Standard, even Russia Today and AOL. Some of them simply insinuated Boris had been lying, while others noted the feedback that he might have voted in Oxfordshire... a fact which later turned out to be the case. Totally legal. Not news.

But this still doesn't answer why Boris deleted his tweet. Perhaps he suddenly realised that voting in Oxfordshire whilst being MP for Uxbridge isn't a good look. Perhaps he didn't want unnecessary debate about owning two houses. Perhaps an intern typed the tweet and someone else revoked it. Perhaps the unwatched video was embarrassing, or incorrect in some way. Whatever, it's mighty odd to tweet what ought to be a perfectly legitimate exhortation to vote and then almost instantly delete it.

And I mention the upsurge from my original tweet not to look smug, or contrite, but to point out how easy it is to publish something which looks convincing but isn't the complete truth. Here's what I now believe to be the complete truth.
1) Boris Johnson tweeted "I just voted Conservative in the local elections."
2) Boris Johnson deleted the tweet very shortly afterwards.
3) Boris Johnson did not delete the tweet in response to my feedback.
4) Boris Johnson lives in London.
5) Local elections were not taking place in London.
6) Boris Johnson also lives in Oxfordshire.
7) Local elections were taking place in Oxfordshire.
8) Boris Johnson voted in Oxfordshire, not in London.
When I tweeted, I knew 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but not 6.
My tweet, however, only acknowledged 1, 4 and 5, not 2 and 3.
Several respondents to my tweet knew 6 and 7, but hadn't realised 2.
James Felton knew 1, 2, 4 and 5, but not 3.
Several newspapers acknowledged 1, 2, 4 and 5, but not 6 and 7.
Better journalists acknowledged 6 and 7 as well as 1, 2, 4 and 5.
Nobody knew 8 for sure until an official aide confirmed it.
And there's almost certainly a 9 you and I know nothing about about.

We all make comments, and hurl criticism, based on incomplete information. Sometimes we assume rather than know. Sometimes it might have been better if we'd phrased things another way. Sometimes what we say is wrong, but looks right. Sometimes what we say isn't technically wrong, but isn't right either. Sometimes we try our best, but could have written it better. Sometimes we assume that people know things when they don't. Sometimes we should have added more caveats. Sometimes people fill in gaps in ways which weren't what was meant. Sometimes people fill in gaps based on expectations and/or prejudice.

This is why fake news is so commonplace. Social media's emphasis on short snappy retorts only reveals how little we actually know for certain.

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