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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 28, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

    The Tweet that was heard all round the world

    Harry McGee

    I have an ambiguous relationship with Twitter. For those who follow politics, like me, on a day like today – during a presidential election count – it is peerless. It is the modern equivalent of tickertape. You are updated on events and figures that haven’t even happened yet!

    They can be good too at other key moments, like during the televised debates.

    It struck me as I followed the Frontline debate on Monday night that tweeters have replaced the role of the knitters watching the vanquished get guillotined after the French revolution. Difference is that they are no longer knitting purls , rather (they hope!) knitting pearls of sardonic humour etc.

    At other times, I go right off it. If you’re following too many tweets, it can all get to be a little Babelesque… too many voices talking about too many things too many of them an insult to the concept of trivia. For my own part, I dont’ tweet unless I have something significant to say or have randomly come up with an ingenious quip. It can sometimes take a long time to come up with so little!

    My huge problem with the medium is to do with authenticity and credibility.

    And also the raging torrent effect of the medium. If there’s something big happens, everybody rushes to be the first there, to get their tweet in, or to retweet something that’s significant. To make something viral.

    And that creates difficulty.

    There were a number of problems about the tweet that appeared on Frontline on Monday night.

    Firstly, it came from a fake account. I tried to trace back its origins. The first tweet is from October 1 having a lash at Michael McDowell. It contains lots of retweets. It’s clear that the person, (or group) is a true green SFer who follows all SF tweets. The branding of the twitter along with the reference to Martin McGuinness’s website makes it look authenitic. As Naoise Nunn commented this twitter (@McGuinness4Pres) sounds more legitimate than the real one (@martin4prez2011).

    So to the second point. It wasn’t the official Twitter site. Yet it duped lots of tweeters who once they saw it retweeted,. And some claimed SF had “confirmed” a press conference with Hugh Morgan the next day.

    So they essentially authenticaed a fake.

    The third point was that the Frontline team decided that Pat Kenny would read it out live on air on Monday night.

    That for me was the most serious implication, and worrying development.

    I have been on to RTE about this and they didn’t come back with any offical, or satisfactory, response. It seems that the broadcaster has no protocol for handling tweets. But it’s my contention that they should. And it would be dangerous for the broadcaster to allow an incident like this to be repeated.

    I know it’s live television and some decisions have to be made on the spur of the moment. But this one was wrong.  One of the defences that it might proffer that it wasn’t presented as a fact but as a question and put to Martin McGuinness to authenticate it.

    But McGuinness was in no position to authenticate it. He didn’t have a clue where this came from. If that defence was to succeed, he would have had to reply: That is untrue and that is a fake. Instead, he used it as another opportuntiy to attack Gallagher.

    Instead, the tweet was presented to Sean Gallagher as a fact and he was thrown by it.

    Now, there have been lots of arguments that the end justifies the means and false and all as the tweet was, it exposed Gallagher as being economical with the verite about his involvement with Fianna Fail.

    In general, I believe Gallagher’s line about being a footsoldier was a load of phooey. And actually Colm Keena’s story about his director’s loan in Beach House raised very serious questions about his credibility, that he failed to answer. He did not convince people that he could live up to the very high standards we should expect of a president.

    But on this one particular point, I actually believe Gallagher on the one net point, that he didn’t collect €5,000 off Hugh Morgan. A lot of my colleagues have been saying, ah sure it doesn’t matter, he had his fingerprints all over that Fianna Fail fundraiser.

    He might have had. But the central claim made by McGuinness was that Gallagher had personally collected the five grand. That’s what really did the damage. As well as Gallagher’s idiotic phraseology and his reference to an ‘envelope’. But it emerged the following day that the money was collected before the event, so McGuinness’s claim could not stand up. He then said that he made a mistake, and that Gallagher had gone to Morgan not once but twice, once before and once after. Gallagher never denied he gave the photo to Morgan but always denied taking money. The ‘envelope’ reference was forced on the back of the false tweet, when he was momentarily thrown by a new allegation that he collected the money afterwards, not before.

    Some of my colleagues say, ah he was collecting money so often he couldn’t remember. But that’s jumping to conclusions, in my humble opinion. You have to stick with the evidence.

    So he got pincered by the dark power that is Martin McGuinness and a false tweet. So a straw man was erected so they could knock it down.

    Was it Provo dirty tricks or just a coincidence?

    Whatever, RTE should not have bought into it. There is no reason why other parties or dishonest individuals could come up with similar strategies to down other parties or candidates in the future.

    They could set up proxy accounts, and enjoying the anonymity conferred by Twitter, publish false information about another candidate at a critical moment, knowing it can go viral. With a chance that it will be read out during a live broadcast.

    And then when it comes to the crunch, the party which benefitted can also deny any knowledge.

    It’s not going to happen too often. And RTE will probably be a bit more vigilant. But that said, reading out a tweet like that is akin to asking the ‘you are a spouse-beater’ question.

    Defenders of Twitter say it is a self-policing medium, as others in the ‘community’ will force the falsehoods out. Yep, but sometimes long after the damage has been done. And it’s not that quick at correcting falsehoods. Yesterday, there was a tweet that must have been retweeted a million times that Hugh Morgan was going to release stilll CCTV images of Gallagher arriving at his business.

    That was untrue. And the images never materialised.

    Incidentally,  the supreme irony of the whole thing was that for a guy who gives motivational talks and is in the communications business, Gallagher is a poor communicator. He did not understand the medium, was never comfortable when talking live, struggled to explain things, and did it very badly. He had neither the composure or hyper-articulacy to withstand the barrage.

    In contrast was Glenna Lynch. When I saw her and heard her really pointed question, the first thing that came into my head was ‘plant’. But she wasn’t. She was an ordinary member of the public (albeit one that was now going to vote for Michael D) with no party connections, but one who was very critical, very hostile and very disdainful of Gallagher. Which is fair enough. (Well, unfair enough – there’s nothing fair about election campaigns!) She really filleted him, although with perfectly legitimate and correct questions about his business.

    The truth is this. Gallagher’s business affairs had to be completely and utterly above suspicion. There could not even be a smidgen of doubt that there was anything untoward and not correct. And he failed to do that.

    And boy, what a natural she was when it came to putting her point across.

    Incidentally 2. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article in the New Yorker several months ago describing how its evangelists have oversold the scope and influence of Twitter, especially during protests in Iran and elsewhere. It’s worth checking out… just for a bit of balance of course!

    • Major Alfonso says:

      RTÉ’s Front Line staff must have mixed feelings about their intervention in the election. Morgan’s press release got them off the hook, but in a different context where there was a “false flag” tweeter who had zero relation to Sinn Fein or was working against them, RTE could have been made into fools and an even more serious ethical disaster could have occurred. As it stood they became the conduit of a LBJ-style “let’s see them deny it” re-hash of McGuinness’s accusation. Had whoever authored that tweet phoned RTE, claimed to be from SF HQ and said they would be running a press conference the next day would the staff had put that to Gallagher?

      I’m glad you pointed out Gallagher’s lack of communication skills. Whenever his emotion mounted to any degree his expression disintegrated: words were mispronounced; he confused ‘condone’ and ‘condemn’ talking to Pat Kenny and had to be corrected, and and made similar errors repeatedly; his written statement in the wake of Front Line was a disaster in terms of sentence structure & grammar and used ‘slur’ as a verb in a way I think is barely acceptable in America; his speeches were far from eloquent. I know Michael D is often accused of verbosity but he is leagues ahead of Gallagher in communicating ideas and is clearly far far far more capable of dynamically addressing a question or subject. Considering the powers of the office, it’s a big deficiency in a candidate to struggle like that and that will have drained a large amount of his support.

    • Páid Ó Donnchú says:

      Thar cíonn a Harry: Cupla rud, cheap tú go b’planda’ í Glenna Lynch. Bhí @johnmcguirk ar cur tweets amach ag rá seo ar #áras11 agus í beo ar an aer! Freisin dúirt sé nach raibh a leithéide dhuine ann. Mar sin, bhí daoine ar son Ghallagher i mbun na ‘dirty tricks’ freisin.
      Ach maidir leis do phoínte mhór, ba cheart RTÉ agus foinsí profisiúnta eile a bheith níos cúramaí agus feoil agus iasc a dhéanamh idir authenticated accounts agus a leithéide mise.

    • alex says:

      Ah dry your eyes Harry, the only thing that Mc Guinness changed in his account of what he was told by Morgan was that Gallagher collected the cheque before the event and not after. Be that true or not Gallagher claimed not to know Morgan and then twenty mins later he did and proceeded to slander the man after delivering a photo of him and Cowen together at his party’s fundraiser.
      Say what you like, SF didn’t win the race for the #aras but they decided the outcome and will see the benefit of entering the race come the next elections of that I have know doubt..

    • AAAAAAAAAAAAAarrrrgh says:

      I cannot believe the absolute STUPIDITY of Irish people to fall for that Frontline set-up. We could have had a dynamic young couple in the Aras, which might have been great for the country’s image. I absolutely think the presidential election result should be declared null and void on account of the “dirty Tricks” used essentially by the enemies of Fianna Fail & Pat Kenny rte. I demand a re-election.. How could MDH be happy with that result? Winning this election as a result of false accusation by one who could never ever, ever, ever cast a first stone in any situation………….How could Sean Gallagher have not been prepared for that dirty trick fest..?? How..?? Feckit he deserves to lose if he couldn’t cope with that crap…..but please, please just put a sock in it Eamon Gilmore…….this is no vindication for you and your pathetic party..or the Kangaroo Koalition..

    • Patrick Dempsey says:

      Good article! I completely agree. I guess it takes an episode like this for RTE etc to scrutinise tweets a bit more rigorously (or at all), and at least we can take some satisfaction from the fact that Gallagher shouldn’t have won in any case, given the dubious nature of his financial/company dealings (even as we rightly acknowledge that the ends don’t justify the means!).

    • Jim Walsh says:

      Great article. I have been saying this all week since the incident happened. I can state clearly that I DID NOT WANT SEAN GALLAGHER TO WIN THIS ELECTION but it has to be said that RTE have played a significant part in his loss, even if only because of their incompetence. Question must be asked of them.

    • steve white says:

      old media’s fault for not doublechecking

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      What does it matter Harry, because if people like Gallagher have nothing to hide in the first place they’ll survive the scrutiny and if people in the media like you did your job properly, instead of being so lazy you (the media) don’t want to leave your desk and prefer the information to arrive on your laptop/mobile/ipad/blackberry and whatever other number of gadgets there are, then maybe all the information about the candidates that blew all of them off course could have been made public and digested properly.

      As is always the case in Ireland, and elsewhere, everytime these events happen its because of a lie and an ability to tell the truth and I can’t remember the last time anything was brought into the public spotlight, that was materially relevant, that wasn’t instead brought up by a person not in the media ie Ms Lynch and at least she was able to speak properly without every second word being err or ah or em.

      I was part of the FG group in the audience at Q&Q when Lenihan Snr was asked about calling the Áras and it wasn’t a ‘planted’ question from what I recall it was among a range of issues that might crop up or be raised as it related to an issue the Irish ‘media’ weren’t interested in pursuing – it was only when there was a different version ot Lenihan’s claim that the media took note and that different version didn’t come from the media checking if Lenihan was telling the truth but from Jim Duffy being so annoyed that Lenihan would state such a bare faced lie.

      Twitter will come and go and its replacement will come and go and let’s hope the media don’t lose their investigating skills, such as they are, by taking the easy route of getting sucked into some twitter or online message instead of taking a step back and assessing the evidence first, then deciding if they want to pursue the matter from whatever the angle is.

    • doctor B says:

      There are only a couple of vowels between a tweet and a twit. Gallagher proved himself to be the latter. Just how reliable the polls giving Gallagher the front runner status were is also open for doubt. The reason Gallagher crashed was his link with the arbeiters of the Celtic Tiger. The latter also include, apparently, the Irish Times. For much of this week their article on ‘entry-level’ homes has been in the top five most read articles. When is the Irish Times going to apologise for spear heading the property boom for such property-porn? The market is falling dramatically and will continue to do so for at least the next two years. Carrying comments on ‘bottoming out’ and ‘good value’ when it comes to significantly over-priced real estate is unworthy of the paper of record.

    • Tony says:

      Whether the Tweet on the frontline debate was authentic and from SF or not is beside the point don’t you think. It exposed Gallagher for what he is – a Fianna Fail Bagman, steeped in that partys culture and ethos. Well done and thank you to whoever tweeted it. This country is changing for the better every day. We needed to hit rock bottom as a society and economy before we regenerate as a far better place – a country we can truely be proud of. Maybe we just need a prompt or a tweet from time to time to keep on the right track.

    • J.C. O'Rourke says:

      Harry – what sunk Gallagher was not so much the tweet (don’t shoot the messenger) but the fact that Gallagher had two versions of events, i.e., before the ad break versus after. If Gallagher, in clear conscience, knew that he was never a money collector for FF then he would’ve confidently faced down any/every accuser! The fact that he didn’t speaks volumes!

    • Clare says:

      I agree with you on the thrust of this, Harry.

      RTE (& specifically Pat Kenny) do have questions on this – they aired a false accusation that visibly rattled Gallagher. He could see the election flash before him & later described himself as being shell-shocked. It was unfair.

      That said, I do think Gallagher minimized his FF connections and it’s not unsurprising that that act faltered.

      The Frontline was merely the catalyst.

    • Dan says:

      Personally I am disgusted by this. I didn’t like the way it was unleashed on SG out of the blue and it caught him off guard and ruined his bid. Whilst he may not have been the man for the job, he deserved a fair election. I appreciate the view of people who are convinced of a ‘bagman status’ but it’s clear that there is a lot of people who have an opposite opinion, but there was a large number of undecided voters who where unfairly influenced by the frontline debate, something completely unproven at the time. An absolute shame on pat Kenny and RTE on this. SG should have dealt with it better but I think he made the mistake of not giving himself the benefit of the doubt and denying all.

      Foul play by someone and unfortunately SF are knee deep in it. Seriously, our national broadcaster used unsubstantiated info fresh from twitter to influence a democratic process…..a disgrace. The whole frontline debate stank as did Kenny.

    • Liz McG says:

      yes, a fairly balanced article. The office of President of Ireland , as exemplified and executed by the 2 Marys, should be earned and not won. Thankfully, this often cringe-ridden campaign, resulted in the best person succeeding. Sean Gallagher is not a statesman, nor will he ever be. O h-Uiginn ABU!!!!

    • A. Littlebird Ptolemey says:

      FF done in by false statement. O Divine justice!

    • Robert Bennett says:

      Glenna Lynch for President in 2018!

    • Enda G. says:

      Coming after the even more serious false allegation against the priest working in Africa, surely it’s time RTE current affairs department were held up to some of that wonderful investigative journalism the IT is so famed for!

    • jaygee says:

      Once brown envelopes were mentioned yer man was finished.
      Congratulations and best wishes to Michael D.

    • rollo says:

      have we not had enough of FF smoke and mirrors politics? Gallagher had way too many unanswered questions, from fundraising to business grants to income issues. This is typical CJ and Bertie stuff. FF aint gone away ya know.

    • Joseph Hegarty says:

      Clearly the tweet exposed Gallagher for what he was – a Fianna Fail Bagman, steeped in that party’s culture and ethos of deceit, solipsism and manipulation. But it should not be assumed that this country is changing for the better morally, ethically or in any way other than political self-interest. We hit rock bottom as a economy, but before that we were lost in duplicity, ineptitude, ignorance and I for one do not see any change. Don’t be fooled anymore by stated intentions of “in the national interests” its simply a FF mantra adopted by others, which has no meaning and in fact is destructive of a once decent nation since BH (before Haughey and his cronies McCreevy and Bertie and look out for Martin.

    • Kate says:

      It did not emerge to Sean Gallagher the following day what Hugh Morgan had claimed. Gallagher had been fully aware during the Frontline debate of the claims made by Morgan and that Morgan had stated that there were two visits, Gallagher even knew of the exact dates of Morgans claim during the Frontline debate but he capitalised on McGuinness making an error on such events.

      The following morning on the Pat Kenny show, Gallagher clearly stated that Morgan had approached the papers a week beforehand and also stated quite clearly that Morgan had said that the cheque had been picked up on 27th June and cashed on the day of the dinner. He said that the media had decided not to run with the story because of Morgans criminal history. This was at least three hours before Fianna Fail issued their statement confirming the date of encashment and at least six hours before Hugh Morgan issued his statement to the media.

      So why did Gallagher not challenge McGuinness on the Frontline about the different versions?

    • G T O'Donovan says:

      I am very happy that Michael D. won; I think he best represents the spirit of Ireland and he has been generally consistent throughout his career. However, I am very disappointed at the disparaging nature of the election and how candidates were publicly villified. It shows a deep anger, frustration and alienation on the part of many. As Paul Brady sang: “we sacrifice our children for the worn out dreams of yesterday”; when we learn to ignore the politics of “commentary & negative positioning” which has migrated from tv and radio to social networks and focus more on a fair evaluation of people’s strengths and weaknesses against an objective set of criteria maybe we will motivate our best to go up for elections. Michael D is thankfuly one of our best.

    • Jacque says:

      I was away for the week so only catching up now. I take it Martin McG ambushed Gallagher by questioning him about unaccounted for money and being part of a unpalatable organisation………..at what point had the great big elephant left the studio?

    • Dónal Ó Murchadha says:

      All through this election I have been sickened by cronies in the media protecting certain candidates from scrutiny. I’m not a big SF supporter, but seriously; “the dark power that is McGuinness”…. Wear it on your sleave why don’t you. You fail to point Gallagher’s lack of credentials, his mirky business past, moreover you paint him as a victim, while he has received nothing but blanket protection from the media. Be a journalist, journalise with integrity, that is to say; the truth and the whole truth!

      And for the record Twitter isn’t the online place online that people can spout deception; is it Harry?

    • alan sweetman says:

      Mr McGee’s consistent bias is a disgrace to journalism.

    • alan sweetman says:

      Your comment…


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