Berlusconi-bashing tweets shut down EU summit experiment
A media experiment of feeding live tweets onto TVs in the atrium of the EU summit building in Brussels on Thursday (16 December) had to be yanked after Italian twitterers bombarded the screens with anti-Berlusconi messages, calling him a mafioso and a paedophile.
"We had the tweet-wall up for two hours in the main hall, but it wasn't moderated and a lot of the tweets were, well, very, very frank," Dana Manescu, the individual from the Council press team who organised the trial run of the technology told EUobserver.
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Originally intended to be up for three hours, the tweet-wall, which republished all tweets with the hashtag "#EUCO" on a pair of wide-screen plasma televisions in the atrium of the Justus Lipsius buliding, the home of the European Council, was taken down after just two hours in order to avoid embarrassment for members of the Italian prime minister's delegation.
A 'hashtag' is a keyword attached usually to the end of a tweet expressing the topic of the message. The hashtag can then be used to find all tweets sent on a particular topic.
As euro-tweeter Joe Litobarski, whose goes by the twitter handle Eurogoblin, noted at around 3pm: "Uh oh. Italians have realised tweets tagged #EUCO shown on Twitter wall at #EU Council meeting - expect mayhem."
"Berlusconi is a mafioso, but he make laws for be not judged," tweeted soulplace, in one example of the sort of lines that were appearing in large letters above the assembled journalists and passing diplomats and politicians.
"Berlusconi pays for sex, for votes, for mafia protection, for everything he can buy. What he cannot buy, will be stolen," tweeted tanzeron.
Tweets from one mpietropoli caused the Council press team particular consternation after he took to posting embarrassing old quotes by the Italian prime minister every few minutes.
"[I cannot] think that there are so many pricks around who would vote against their own best interests," mpietropoli tweeted, in one such citation.
"Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile," he posted again.
"It was insulting. People were calling him a paedophile," Ms Manescu said. "The point was not to show insulting messages about Berlusconi. If anyone from the Italian delegation saw it, it would hurt their sensibility."
"It was off topic and basically spam. One tweeter kept tweeting quotes from Berlusconi," she explained.
At 5pm local time, Ms Manescu asked other tweeters to stick to the topic of the European Council: "#EUCO to become a Berlusconi quotes wall? No, please!"
The request fell on deaf ears and the tweet-wall, operated using Tweet-Wall Pro, software from a Belgian start-up, was shut down.
Ms Manescu said the turn of events was a shame because laying aside the Berlusconi-bashing, the rest of the experiment saw people from across Europe engaging in an interactive conversation on the topic of the European Council - her original intention.
Others had suggested that UK Prime Minister would cave in over EU budget questions, called on EU leaders to help protect WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange's rights and criticised EU-imposed austerity.
"Some of this is critical, but that's totally okay. That's the point. It's when it got personal that it was a problem," Ms Manescu went on. "And [EU Council President] Van Rompuy first announced that leaders had agreed on the wording of a treaty change via Twitter. That's a real first. Both EFE [the Spanish news agency] and Belga [the Belgian news agency] did their first stories on that using Van Rompuy's tweet."
The press team was surprised by the anti-Berlusconi tweets but remain undaunted.
"We'll definitely do this again. The problem was that it wasn't moderated. We have to analyse what went wrong, perhaps present the visualisation a bit differently too, but other than the Berlusconi messages, we're quite happy with how the trial went," Ms Manescu said.