Twitter: powerful, but not yet stronger than mainstream media

John Prescott’s Guardian article about Twitter this week caused a stir.

The former deputy prime minister seized on the fact Twitter now had 10 million UK users to claim that Twitter was now more influential than the mainstream media. He pointed out that just nine million buy a national newspaper.

Now I’m the first to accept that Twitter is influential. It is now a news source, noticeboard and echo chamber. It is richly entertaining. I will link to this post from my @robskinner account. But its influence is closely linked with the mainstream media. Britain’s top media groups and their journalists are prominent on Twitter. Many of the most popular links from Twitter content are to the mainstream media. After all, 140 characters leads you wanting more information about a big story.

Prescott argues that Twitter takes power away from the mainstream media. Here he’s on stronger ground. There’s little doubt that social media gives an important counterbalance to the rich and powerful. Prescott cites the backlash against Jan Moir’s poisonous article about Stephen Gately‘s death as an example. But it’s ironic that a politician at the heart of a government notorious for spin and control freaks should see himself as a champion of the battle against bias:

“It’s given me a voice and a connection to millions of people that the distorted prism of the mainstream media denied.”

Prescott is well on the way to national treasure status. And Twitter is largely responsible for that.

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