No harvesting from Twitter

I’m undecided with regard to Scottish independence. I believe I may have said that already. More than once.

The “Yes Scotland” campaign launched last week with the usual social media attachments of Facebook and Twitter.

As it turns out, if you follow @YesScotland on Twitter, the website will pick up your profile pic and your user name and create a page for you on their website. You can see how this works with @DHothersall, who finds the whole thing more or less funny: Caron Lindsay, not so much.

In response to complaints, the campaign have done two three things. They’ve issued a statement (h/t Little GrumpyG blog):

“ is open to all people who want to find out about the many benefits of an independent Scotland, including 15,000 supporters who have already signed the Yes Declaration and followers, people of ‘independent mind’, who are not counted as supporters, and who have connected with Yes Scotland through our website, Facebook page or twitter account simply to find out more.”

And they added a strapline to the website. There is a screenshot of the website as it looked at 4pm today at Caron Lindsay’s blog, and within six hours it had been changed.

The yesscotland website without the strapline, at 4pm on 29th May

The yesscotland website with the strapline, at 10pm on 29th May

And they’ve added a warning message to their Twitter profile (which at least two people tell me wasn’t there when they followed it)

By following this Twitter account, your profile picture may display to your friends and followers on


I say this not as a political opponent or a supporter, not because messing around with software like this will make me change my mind about Scottish independence for or against: just – No.

You do not harvest Twitter profiles and photos for your website without permission.

You just don’t.

Do let @YesScotland know that. Thanks.
Update, 30th May

Today’s the day whoever’s in charge of social media at the Yes Scotland campaign has their chance to look down the @YesScotland twitterfeed and consider whether to alter their website to ensure that following @YesScotland on Twitter does not put a person’s Twitter profile up on the site by default.

From their reaction yesterday, the first instinct on the part of Yes Scotland was to act as if “We meant to do that!” – by adding the strapline to the website, by adding the warning message to their Twitter profile, and by issuing a message declaring that appearing on their website doesn’t mean you’re a supporter, just means you’re engaging in debate.

This is understandable as an initial, panicky reaction. It would be a terrible mistake to continue with this.

From a supporter of the Yes Scotland campaign:

Surely anyone using twitter recognises that not everyone who follows them will necessarily be supportive of their views. It’s a silly mistake to have effectively paraded their twitter followers as supporters – probably an oversight on the part of whoever designed the website.
What actually annoys me though is the big deal that’s being made of this online. The “Yes” campaign have not deliberately attempted to claim non-supporters as actual supporters, it’s simply unprofessionalism. A mistake of epic proportions, I’ll agree, but an honest one at that. No-one has intended to mislead here.

Hopefully mistakes will be learned from.

Of course there are a flock of tweets from die-hard “Yes Scotland can do no wrong!” supporters on Twitter. Those are not the people you have to convince.

Nor, to be honest, should you worry overly about the die-hard “This proves Yes Scotland is dishonest!” people, because they’re never going to be convinced.

The people you should worry about, right at the start of your campaign, are the supporters who actually know how a social media campaign ought to be run, and who can see this is completely unprofessional. Not to mention the journalists and bloggers who don’t want to find themselves on your site as “supporters”.

Fix the problem and let people know you fixed it and all’s well.
Despite the STV story (Independence campaign changes website over Twitter follower complaints) I think from the hurried reaction and timing that the stimulus for change was more likely two mainstream media stories – it doesn’t appear that @YesScotland is an interactive twitter feed.

—-Update, 17:05
The pages which were auto-created seem to have been removed, and so has the strapline which was hurriedly added yesterday. All that remains is for “Yes Scotland” to say formally that they will not be harvesting people’s Twitter profiles without their active consent, and all’s well.

—-Update, 18:30

—Update, 19:30
Political Scrapbook: Scots Independence Campaign Backs Down Over Fake Supporter Scam
And that headline is why the Yes Scotland campaign should have changed the settings on the NationBuilder software yesterday. An hour’s perusal of the @YesScotland twitterfeed then would have told any experienced social media campaigner that this was building up to be a regular Twitterstorm that could be best defused by (a) fixing the problem – no one should end up a “supporter” on the site just by following @YesScotland (b) removing the auto-curated pages already added by that means (c) announcing that they had done so and apologising for the glitch.

Don’t tell me that I’m a Monday morning footballer, that this is “obvious with hindsight”: it was clear and obvious to me yesterday, by 8:30 in the evening, which is when I decided to write this post. And it’s not my job. What this debacle says is that either the “Yes Scotland” campaign has no one experienced with social media working on it, or that whoever is their social media expert, they are not allowed to make necessary changes to the campaign’s social media policy. Which is a much bigger problem for the campaign than a 24-hours Twitterstorm.

Update, 8th March 2013

Nine months later, I finally got a reply from @YesScotland:


Filed under Feng Shui Kitten Fixes Stuff, Scottish Politics

5 responses to “No harvesting from Twitter

  1. dan

    It’s quite a rights grab to simply state that they reserve the right to nick your picture. And although you’re not ‘counted’ as a supporter I do think the implication is there. It’s an outrageous assumption that they can just use your work, however trivial, for their own promotion. Own goal I think

    • Every happy way of responding to a social media crisis is happy in its own way: unhappy ways of responding are all alike.

      Unfortunately, whoever’s job it is to issue campaign statements about social media at YesScotland has opted for the unhappy way.

  2. Trevor Davies

    I object too to their twisting of language. “people of independent mind” is surely meant to convey more than one meaning?

  3. Pingback: Scotland, 18 Sept 2014: Yes Or No, We Are Not Happy. - The Backbencher

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