Trust, Twitter and Louise Mensch

Posted on June 25, 2012


Adam Hutcheson Menshn.com Louise MenschIt’s often said that people’s problems with Social Media are actually problems with people. So when Louise Mensch launched Menshn.com last week and cited her “frustrations” with Twitter it’s curious to find out exactly what she’s got up her sleeve. The Tory MP for Corby called for Social Networks such as Twitter and Facebook to be temporarily removed or “take an hour off” during the 2011 London Riots, which certainly stirred the pot when it comes to views of online censorship and the real-world implications of Social Media.

To me it seems as if Mensch clearly sees the value of Social Media in politics, but possibly desires to slice away a bit of the ‘democracy’ of the platforms. The main USP behind Menshn.com being that posts are gathered around more constructed ‘topics’, and that ‘trolls’ and abusive/off topic posts will be moderated carefully. On the surface it sounds like a good idea, and one that will appeal to a lot of Social Media users who share Mensch’s desire for a more constructed and serious conversation platform.  It also sits neatly within my vision of the future of social media as a collection of more topic/subject/industry niche networks – using core platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as both a launching/word of mouth mechanism and as a way of reducing the demand of registration.

I just don’t trust Menshn.com

This caution is not based in political beliefs or her reputation in the news or politics – I honestly don’t know much about her. I’ve only just worked out that she’s a Conservative MP for Corby. This is based on the way that Menshn.com has been launched.

When I discovered Twitter I felt like I was joining something that allowed free discourse, demanded very little from me in terms of data or personal information and something that was a service which would be fun. The branding of Twitter helped solidify these first impressions, and the functionality of the site and mobile applications made sharing my thoughts and reading others an informal and simple experience.

As my use of the site grew I became more naturally inclined to express my thoughts on the news agenda, politics and in particular sports. Imagine a conversation in a pub with your friends, in which everyone can be heard, some people can just listen and where the topic of conversation can drift and vary naturally.

Menshn.com launched with Louise Mensch’s name all over it. The early press released had quotes from her, it was made explicit from the off that this site originated from an MP, and that sought a much more serious and structured discussion around set topics. The site was instantly compared to Twitter, possibly hoping to piggy-back on both the popularity of Twitter and some user’s frustrations with it, and also as a quick ‘word of mouth’ way to describe exactly what the site is.

Whilst I stand and admit that the site has a strong market, is possibly a good idea at heart and has so far been executed well I just can’t help but feel a certain amount of suspicion surrounding it. I don’t know who owns or is CEO of Twitter – the fact that I now know that an MP has launched this site makes me uneasy about using the site to express opinions and discuss set political topics. Setting out its stall as “Louise Mensch’s Social Network” raises a lot of questions about her agenda, and about the real intent of the site:

How will my details and comments be used? Who sets the subjects under discussion? To what extent will comments be moderated?

Most importantly, as Mensch hopes to raise venture capital finance, how exactly will the site be monetized? When Facebook went public there was some discussion about whether it was morally appropriate for a company to profit from the ‘private’ interactions of a website’s users. The goldmine in Social Media was seen as user’s data, and the potential to advertise in a new, targeted way. With Twitter we all know that more widespread advertising is coming – but the difference is that I don’t really care about the opinions I post and the discussions I have on Twitter. Telling people that ‘I’m tired and need a coffee’ does not give away as personal a part of me as much as discussing politics or expressing my socio-political leanings does. Those opinions mean a great deal to me; and in real-life I would only enter into such dialogue in private with my most trusted friends. As part of the registration ‘rules’ of Menshn I am forced to follow and be followed by 100 other users.

It feels like I’ve been invited to a seminar about UK politics with 100 strangers, in a room with a two-way mirror in it.

A social network must be built on trust and be seen to be of more value to its users than its creator. When a Tory MP who once called for Facebook and Twitter to be shut down suddenly launches a ‘controlled’ space to rival existing networks not long enough after the Facebook IPO, and during a rocky patch between government and the people – I for one, don’t feel too inclined to ‘talk on topic’ yet.

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