WHEN politicians find themselves listed as supporters of the cause they oppose, the back room boffins are either devious or inept.
The Yes Scotland campaign was accused of both yesterday after politicians and journalists, who tracked the site on Twitter from professional curiosity, found themselves featured, complete with photographs, among the roll call of "people o' independent mind".
The most obvious interpretation of this phrase was that these people supported the campaign for Scottish independence. In fact, they were so independent-minded that they wanted to keep tabs on the campaign while remaining politically neutral or being actively opposed to independence. This raises questions about the uses and abuses of social media for political campaigns.
One of those surprised to find himself listed as "supporting independence" was the Labour MP for Glasgow South, Tom Harris. As a veteran of political campaigns, he dismissed it as the internet equivalent of co-opting as supporters people who are not at home when canvassers call. This is a broadly fair comparison but the vital difference is that the website listing includes a profile of someone who has followed it on Twitter, which the individual did not know was being created.
This is underhand and cannot be justified, even if the motive was only over-enthusiasm for the cause. The SNP should know better. It prides itself on using the new tools of email and social media to reach large numbers of people effectively and gain useful feedback. The 2011 election result proved the effectiveness of this approach, which was adapted from the new media strategy that proved so successful for Barack Obama in the 2008 US presidential election.
The Yes Scotland website is powered by software inspired by that campaign but in the rush to exploit its possibilities, basic principles appear to have been lost.
In only two months, the SNP would seem to have forgotten the lessons from its consultation on the referendum. Acceptance of anonymous submissions led to accusations that the Nationalists were rigging the consultation and, after an attempt at defending anonymity for some people, resulted in a declaration that anonymous responses would not be included in the analysis.
If the lesson that credibility depends on transparency has not been passed on to the Yes campaign, it risks alienating some who might have been persuaded to the cause of independence. The internet age has demonstrated that independence of mind is highly prized by individuals and that to follow does not necessarily mean to support.
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