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Monday, November 24, 2014

First law of Twitter – it takes careful planning to look spontaneous

I was talking to Joanna Cohen about the picture on the left when I was in Gateshead recently for the Radio Three Festival Of Free Thinking. Joanna lectures on American History at Queen Mary and was giving a talk about how Abraham Lincoln used photography to project his image to the American public in the 1860s (which you can hear here) so she knows a bit more about the subject than I do.

We were talking about the tweet which Bill Clinton posted after his daughter Chelsea gave birth to her first child. I found it interesting in all kinds of ways: simple human interest value in looking at new grandparents; nosey curiosity about the amount of weight he's lost; speculation about the state of the relationship between the two adults; wondering whether in years to come the child might look back at that snap and be amazed at how it went round the world so quickly.

Bill's tweet followed Hillary's. Even I realised this story was mainly about Hillary and the next Presidential election. And why not? This seemed to be the action of a proud grandmother hoping people would momentarily overlook the fact that she's also an ambitious politician. Joanna had a different view. Look, she said, I'm sure she is a proud grandmother but there's no way plans have not been in place for the posting of this picture on Twitter from the moment Chelsea Clinton first announced she was pregnant. There are people on her team who know exactly where Hillary stands in the eyes of the American people and understand that the opportunities to short circuit voter's rational defences and appeal to their emotional side are too precious to be passed-up. This picture and the tweeting of it will have been as carefully choreographed as a major press conference. 

I suppose she's right. The power of this picture is it looks spontaneous, which is obviously not the same thing as being spontaneous. Things that are spontaneous invariably look a mess. Only things that are carefully planned look spontaneous.