Sebastian Payne

Andy Burnham’s barmy online army

Andy Burnham's barmy online army
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Andy Burnham's campaign has ensured he remains the current favourite to be the next Labour leader. Part of his nascent leadership campaign is an online army of fans who are promoting his cause and attacking his opponents. Twitter and Facebook are going to be key battlegrounds for each of the contenders — offering an easy way to spread a message without the filter of the media.

Naturally, Burnham’s campaign has an official Twitter account: @Andy4Leader. As far as I can see, this is the only official account associated with Burnham’s campaign. The account has 1,421 and mostly retweets favourable news from others about Burnham. On May 13, it posted this video of Burnham announcing he was running:

Watch why @andyburnhammp is running for Leader of the Labour Party Volunteer / donate here

— Andy for Leader (@Andy4Leader) May 13, 2015

That account aside, there are at least four other accounts promoting Burnham’s cause using variations on Andy for Leader. The smallest is @AndyforLeader, whch has just 60 followers. This account specialises in tweeting odd pictures of Burnham with various slogans, such as:

Then we have @Andy4Leader2015, which has 889 followers and specializes in more aggressive ranting messages, attacking the'‘Tory press and media':

@AB4LabLeader has 2,433 followers — more than the official Burnham campaign account. As well as tweeting about #HeartofLabour, this account points out that Burnham is the favourite in the polls:

@jruddy99 @MagsNews @andyburnhammp @UKLabour try this shows all voters.

— Andy Burnham 4Leader (@AB4LabLeader) May 26, 2015

And finally we have @LabourAndy, which has managed to garner whopping 10,500 followers in a short space of time. Easily the most aggressive of the Burnham-supporting accounts, whoever runs it enjoys attacking the ‘Murdoch press’

For those of you who are aware of the infamous Labour activist Dr Éoin Clarke, you might see some similarities between @LabourAndy and @LabourEoin. Guido reckons that he might be behind this account. They both tweet similar things:

Related to these two are Clarke's 'think tank', Labour Left which has 24.9k followers. It claims to be ‘Labour’s largest think tank’ but I've not heard of anyone in Westminster who has been to a LabourLeft event, nor heard of any particular influence it has within the party. There are no offices or details listed on the site. That aside, it's clear that this group are backing Burnham:

There are also several profiles on Facebook backing Burnham's campaign. Given that none have a blue tick of authentication, it's difficult to say which is the official campaign but these are the ones I have found:

  • Andy Burnham for Labour Party leader – 3,332 likes
  • Andy Burnham for Leader of the Labour Party – 4,329 likes
  • Andy Burnham - the people's choice for the next Leader of the Labour Party – 975 likes
  • Andy Burnham for Labour leader - 179 likes
  • Why does any of this matter, you might ask? Social media is going to play an important role in the Labour leadership contest — for mobilising the party's grassroots and spreading the message. Labour activists in particular are very prominent on Twitter — George Aylett for example, who has 234k followers — and will be naturally keen to use their presence on Twitter and Facebook to help their chosen candidate.

    Given some of the unconventional messages coming from these accounts, Burnham's team need to think carefully about how they differentiate between what counts as official campaign communications and what comes from grassroots supporters. Although the campaigns are still in the very early days, much of what happens now will set the tone for the next few months — on and off line.

    UPDATE: The mystery of how @LabourAndy has so many followers is solved. Some folks on Twitter have pointed out that the account was previously known as @EvidenceUK, before being rebadged for Burnham's leadership campaign. According to Éoin Clarke's LinkedIn page, he is the founder of EvidenceUK: