Election Diary: SDLP's McCrossan silent about fake '˜followers'

An SDLP candidate has declined to explain why more than 90 per cent of his '˜followers' on Twitter are fake, giving an inflated impression of his online popularity.

Wednesday, 4th May 2016, 9:23 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th May 2016, 1:36 pm
The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan

Daniel McCrossan, who was co-opted into the Assembly in January, is the party’s candidate in West Tyrone - but bizarrely he has more Twitter followers in the USA than in the constituency he hopes to represent.

The 27-year-old – whose selection has split the SDLP association down the middle, with two former members now standing against him – has 3,251 ‘followers’ on Twitter.

However, the Ulster Herald last week highlighted that a shockingly high percentage of those seemingly are not real people.

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Using the tool twitteraudit.com, the local newspaper found that just 282 of the ‘followers’ are classified as real people. The paper also reported that “curiously, Mr McCrossan’s followers had been over the 6,000 mark in recent weeks, but have been dramatically slashed in half”.

All Twitter accounts can attract some fake followers, but the overwhelming percentage of fakes following Mr McCrossan is highly unusual.

The News Letter used the same tool to compare that with several other political leaders. By contrast to Mr McCrossan, 75 per cent of Martin McGuinness’s followers are real, 70 per cent of Arlene Foster’s followers are real and 91 per cent of Mr McCrossan’s own party leader, Colum Eastwood, are real.

The News Letter has been attempting to speak to Mr McCrossan about the issue since last week. We phoned him on Thursday and again on Friday but there was no answer.

On Monday, he answered the phone but, on being told of what the call was about, said that he was in a car and could not discuss the issue.

We phoned back at the time he suggested but he did not answer nor respond to a message.

Yesterday the News Letter asked the SDLP press office if Mr McCrossan could explain the anomaly and whether he had paid for fake ‘followers’.

There was no response.

Mr McCrossan is not the first politician to face questions over whether they have paid to buy fake social media followers in an attempt to bolster their campaign.

In February, US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was found to have more than two million fake Twitter followers.

Pengelly still operating under her two names

One of the DUP’s most high profile candidates is still using two names.

Emma Pengelly, a former special adviser to Peter Robinson who was co-opted into the Assembly by him and rapidly made a junior minister before he retired in January, had been Emma Little but changed her name after marrying senior civil servant Richard Pengelly last year.

From that point, she described herself – and was described by her party – as ‘Emma Pengelly’.

However, two months ago the trained barrister began to use the name ‘Emma Little Pengelly’.

She has insisted that she did not change her name in order to move up the ballot paper, which lists candidates alphabetically

The longer name has appeared on her posters and which voters will see on ballot papers tomorrow.

But there is the potential for a degree of confusion.

The signage on the outgoing DUP MLA’s constituency office on the Cregagh Road makes no reference to ‘Emma Little Pengelly’, while the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister still states that ‘Emma Pengelly’ is its junior minister.

And the prominent DUP figure’s legal name is listed by Companies House – which holds records of her two directorships – as ‘Mary Emma Jean Pengelly’.

McCann: SF not used to left-wing challenge

Sinn Fein has never been challenged from the left and is “running scared” of People Before Profit (PBP), veteran campaigner Eamonn McCann has claimed.

Mr McCann, who is hoping to take a seat in Foyle while PBP’s Gerry Carroll is expected to take a seat in West Belfast, said that his party would consistently oppose austerity “unlike Sinn Fein shouting left-wing slogans in the South, while implementing Tory policy in the North in order to keep in with the DUP”.

Writing on journalist Ed Moloney’s website The Broken Elbow, he said: “It’s Sinn Fein’s politics which are partitioned, not ours...Sinn Fein is not used to facing a serious challenge from the Left. Now they find People Before Profit breathing down their necks in three constituencies, and they don’t know how to handle it.

“But they’d better get used to it. After Thursday, they will face the same challenge every day in the Assembly.”

Migrants could be made to vote SF, McNarry claims

Ukip has claimed that there has been a huge surge in the number of migrants applying for postal votes and said it is concerned that they will be “marshalled to vote for Sinn Fein”.

However, the party offered no evidence that Sinn Fein was likely to be favoured by migrant voters.

Ukip Northern Ireland leader David McNarry claimed that “reliable and well-placed sources have told me that there has been an orchestrated surge in a demand for postal votes from thousands of non-UK nationals here in Northern Ireland to vote in the Assembly election and the EU referendum.

“Who is orchestrating that surge and what lies behind it are serious questions that need to be addressed.”

Mr McNarry, who is not standing in the election but whose party hopes to win at least one seat,added: “What concerns me most is that migrants are marshalled to vote for Sinn Fein in the Assembly election and to vote for staying in the EU in the referendum.”

Another Foster hint on taking education

The DUP has not yet decided whether it will break the habit of a political lifetime and choose the education portfolio over finance, Arlene Foster has said.

In an interview with UTV’s Tracey Magee broadcast last night, the DUP leader left open the possibility of discarding past DUP doctrine that the finance portfolio had to be chosen first (which leaves Sinn Fein to choose education) as it has influence on the budgetary allocations to every other department.

The Fermanagh politician said: “We have on previous occasions said that we are taking the Department of Finance and Personnel as our first choice before the election - that is not the case in this election.”

However, as on previous occasions when the DUP leader has hinted at taking education, Mrs Foster did not commit her party to taking that ministry.

Mrs Foster, who has been the face of the DUP campaign to an extent not seen during the years of Peter Robinson’s leadership, also said that she had told the DUP candidate that she would be with them throughout the campaign “and that’s what I’ve done”.

Meanwhile, in last night’s BBC leaders debate, Mrs Foster lamented what she said was insufficient focus on how she has worked with Martin McGuinness to bring investment to Northern Ireland.

Recounting how they had gone to the US together on trade missions, she said that “unfortunately we don’t get asked about that a lot, we get asked about the difficult things”.

Help me shake up Stormont: Allister

TUV leader Jim Allister has made a final appeal to voters who are unhappy with Stormont’s performance to back his party.

The North Antrim politician, who accepted that it would be a failure if he again returns to Stormont as a sole TUV voice, urged voters to “strengthen my hand to shake things up”.

He said: “Over the last few weeks as I have campaigned across the Province it is clear that the general public are not happy with what they got.

“They are fed up with the constant failure, the endless series of crisis talks and the expenses scandals.

“To those people I say - be true to yourself by rejecting the parties which brought you that and demanding change.

“Vote for change which you will notice by voting TUV, the effective and authentic voice of opposition.”

He added: “We’ve shone a bright light into Stormont’s dark corners and sought to derail the gravy train rather than joining it.”