Greenwich Council tried to hijack the consultation into building a third Blackwall Tunnel yesterday – but ended up having to start again after its Twitter feed started spouting spoof messages.
The council has launched a “bridge the gap” campaign to encourage residents to sign TfL’s consultations into building river crossings on the Greenwich Peninsula and at Gallions Reach in Thamesmead.
Conservative mayor Boris Johnson wants to build a tunnel close to the existing two Blackwall Tunnels, and open a ferry at Gallions Reach, which would replace the Woolwich Ferry.
Greenwich’s ruling Labour councillors voted to support the Silvertown policy at a behind-closed-doors meeting last week.
But some were surprised to see Chris Roberts launch a full-blooded campaign yesterday, with a front page story on the front of its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time, demanding a tunnel to Silvertown and a bridge at Gallions Reach.
On Monday afternoon, a page on the Greenwich Council website was launched to promote the campaign. Residents were asked to fill in their name, an email address, and to tick a box to send a message to Twitter. Upon clicking the “submit” button, you would be redirected to the TfL survey page, where you’d presumably follow the instructions on the previous page and say you strongly supported options you were were told to support.
The idea was that the council’s Twitter feed would then carry your name, a hashtag (#bridgethegap) and a link to the survey page. Essentially, the council was trying to use Twitter to hijack a public consultation.
Classy. Except there were several flaws. The feed wasn’t moderated. No genuine name ever appeared on the feed – because the hijack was, well, hijacked, by person(s) unknown.
One taxpayer wasn’t amused…
Whoops. But the Dear Leader’s pet pussy wasn’t long for this world, as council press office staff scrambled to delete the auto-tweets before they could spew out any more nonsense. Instead, it just started spouting “new pledge of support made for…” every time a “resident” signed the petition.
But worse, there were still no checks on email addresses or where people were signing from. I managed to sign under spoof names at least twice from the same computer, opening up the opportunity for someone to either sabotage or hugely inflate the numbers of “residents” signing the petition. There was also a promise that names wouldn’t be published – but names on petitions to public bodies have to be public.
Eventually, the council saw sense and gave up trying to hijack Twitter before its account got suspended. And last night, a proper sign-up page appeared with following message:
Thanks to everyone who has already pledged their support on the Royal Borough’s website for the campaign for extra river crossings. We have decided to ask people for additional details when they sign up to the ‘bridge the gap’ campaign in order to confirm their identity.
Whether “residents” George Hamilton III, Mickey Mouse and Pope Pius XXIX will have to do it all over again, remains to be seen. There is now an assurance that names won’t be published online – well, perhaps not on the council’s website, but it’s a public document and should be easy to obtain.
But the page still carries signatories straight into TfL’s survey. Nothing about reading the info provided, just instructions to say you strongly support the council’s favoured options. Try it yourself – the petition still allows you to sign multiple times.
The council’s own press release is as much as a fact-free zone as the petition page – apparently there are “campaigners” demanding a third Blackwall Tunnel, which is news to anyone who lives locally. “For far too long we have put up with congestion, pollution and this barrier to growth,” rants Roberts, oblivious to the fact that a third tunnel on the Greenwich peninsula will merely attract more traffic to the A102, which it emerges, has flyovers that aren’t in the best of health. It’s also emerged that car ownership in London is falling, not rising.
No studies have been carried out into the impact a Silvertown tunnel would have on traffic, while it’s certain to increase pollution in some of London’s most polluted areas.
“We need Transport for London to see that local people are really behind the idea,” Roberts continues. Sorry, Chris, 88% of respondents to a poll on this website at the beginning of this year weren’t behind the idea. And my poll’s no more scientific than yours.
The Dear Leader is usually good at picking campaigns he thinks he can win – and the Tory mayor’s likely to press ahead with the scheme anyway – but with a few marginal seats along the affected route, he and his Labour colleagues may well pay a heavy price for backing Boris.