Did Jeremy Corbyn make the most of Snapchat? Was Boris Johnson immune to the pitfalls of memes? Why is nobody wearing a tie?

Sky News and BuzzFeed broke the mould of general election coverage last night with Election Social, a bold new show built for digital audiences with a cast of some of the savviest and wittiest operators on the internet.

There were no politicians in sight besides the leaders looming large above the state-of-the-art set, with party spin swapped for some of the most insightful young political commentators – and input from the audience too.

Election Social boasted its very own set, separate from the main Sky News studio
Image:
Election Social boasted its very own set, separate from the main Sky News studio

Sitting confidently next to live streams of Fortnite and FIFA on Twitch, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Election Social was just as much about the viewers as those in the studio.

Besides, who needs to interview a cabinet minister when you have a direct line to a boozy election party? And why limit discussions to the exit poll when you can launch your own votes in real time?

There was even a 12 days of Christmas election advent calendar, starting with a manifesto magic money tree and topped off with 12 hecklers heckling.

Not that it was all just fun and games. Discussions about the prime minister’s memeability sound inherently ridiculous, but it’s a conversation befitting of the growing importance of digital when it comes to politics.

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“Boris Johnson comes with mockery pre-baked,” observed Sky’s technology correspondent Rowland Manthorpe, about the man whose time as London mayor made him something of a meme before memes were even a thing.

What could a politician who easily brushed off flattening a Japanese schoolboy while playing rugby have to fear from some pictures of Andrew Neill interviewing a fridge?



Michael Spicer on the Lib Dems ahead of the Election Social on Sky News.

Mr Johnson is an easy target for internet satire, not least from Room Next Door star Michael Spicer, who was able to produce three exclusive skits for Election Social as the PM served up material “on virtually a daily basis”.

Just when you thought he couldn’t possibly be ridiculed any further, a late online campaign video had some questioning their previously unquestionable love for Love Actually.

But as the New Statesman’s digital culture writer Sarah Manavis observed during the show: “You get a really inflated sense of who’s doing well and who isn’t on social media.”

Journalist Hussein Kesvani was on the same page, questioning whether “social media matters as much as people thought it did” given how the heavily-retweeted banter emanating from Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter account failed to make much of an impact on voters.

That may explain why the mood among some Election Social guests was rather mellow, as Sky News’ political correspondent Lewis Goodall revealed an exit poll that showed “Labour’s worst performance since 1935”.

With the “youthquake” of 2017 having boosted Labour to an unexpectedly decent result, a focus for the analysts was trying to explain why it had gone quite so badly this time round.

No politicians in sight... except those looming large in the background
Image:
No politicians in sight… except those looming large in the background

Journalist and broadcaster Kieran Yates said that while Mr Corbyn had excelled online two years ago, this time he failed to appeal to anyone beyond those who were already committed to voting for him.

Kenny Imafidon, a political commentator and social entrepreneur, said the Brexit focus of the election “starved conversation of things people actually care about”.

That Brexit focus was reflected in the social media campaign conducted by the Tories, and Emily Ashton, senior political correspondent at BuzzFeed UK, said the “Get Brexit Done” message was perfect for the digital battleground.

Few could argue that it’s more hashtaggable than #negotiateanewdealputitbacktothepeoplewithremainontheballotandthenimplementtheresultwithinsixmonths.



And while the emphatic victory for the Conservatives means there won’t be another UK general election for five years, many of these same issues will rear their head again for the US presidential election in 2020.

Peter Hamby, host of the Snapchat political show Good Luck America, told Election Social: “Advertisers, whether they are political or commercial, they have to go where the eyeballs are and they’re on the mobile screens.”

Until then, we turn our attention to digesting the results served up by the UK electorate.

Based on how active Election Social’s Twitch chatroom was, plenty of the post-match analysis may well find an unlikely home in a Fortnite stream near you.

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