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Twitter refugees seek asylum in an unusual place: The Matt Hancock app

Move over, Mastodon – bungling UK politician's platform finds thousands of new users amid Elon Musk chaos

Cast your minds back to the Before Times and you may recall that Matt Hancock was not the UK's disgraced health secretary, but head of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. You may also remember that he took his portfolio so seriously that he had his own mobile app developed: "Matt Hancock MP".

No, the app was not good. When it launched in 2018, The Register reported an overbearing and one-size-fits-all privacy policy by the cookie-cutter app developer, Disciple Media Ltd. The stated purpose of the app was to help people from his constituency (West Suffolk) "engage" with their MP.

And yet The Wall Street Journal, on an apparent fling from its US-centric broadsheet news territory, has noted that the app now has more than 243,000 users – only 200 of whom actually follow the MP. Hancock of course resigned as health secretary last year after being caught on camera having a fling of his own: breaching COVID-19 social distancing rules.

The WSJ claims ironic Twitter users are using the app to shelter from the Elon Musk-shaped storm that has engulfed the internet's "town square."

"why is this the closest thing to an actual twitter clone I've seen so far??" asked someone going by "unfortunatalie."

"it like … really is," replied another, calling themselves "elonmusk."

"matt is always ahead of the curve!" cheered "matt h 4evar."

"Just setting up my Matt Hancock," wrote another user, "Andy Parmo" – a nod to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey's first tweet.

Like omg, totally. You guys are so random xD

Mr Hancock frowns on these kinds of shenanigans, as outlined in the app's guidelines:

This online community is intended to engage, update and inform West Suffolk constituents. It is your space to tell me what you think and interact with others who are interested in discussing issues facing West Suffolk and our country.

I want to promote healthy, open and constructive discourse on the issues that matter to you. Offensive conduct will not be tolerated, and offenders may be removed.

Obviously, the WSJ is being disingenuous. The real reason Hancock's app is lighting up is because the MP is somewhere in the Australian jungle eating bugs and kangaroo genitalia as part of reality TV car crash I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here. Below is a sample of the kind of content you can enjoy on Matt Hancock MP (yes, we signed up so you don't have to).

Matt Hancock app

The thing is, the app does work fairly well as a bare-bones Twitter analog. Aside from the homepage, which looks much like it would if you followed the MP on any other social media site (which we do not), there is the "Have your say" page, which functions as a news feed showing what other users have written.

But the self-named "cockers" appear dead set on posting Hancock-related content – with nary a West Suffolk issue in sight – so having a meaningful discussion seems a long way off yet. Though it's not like that's always possible on Twitter either.

The I'm A Celeb stunt has drawn in viewers because Hancock is far from the most popular guy in the country. Many view his handling of the UK's response to the pandemic as inadequate and blame him for the deaths of loved ones or the inability to see them in hospitals and care homes. The real slap in the face, like ousted prime minister Boris Johnson's "Partygate", was when he was filmed on CCTV in a passionate liaison with a co-worker. Hancock was married at the time – not to the co-worker.

It's one rule for them and another for us. What if we wanted to have an affair with a colleague?

As a result, he is being spam voted into taking the show's most revolting challenges, usually involving the consumption of exotic animals whose lives have been wasted for our entertainment. We don't recommend it.

Mastodon on the march

Away from the glamour of Matt Hancock's news feed, Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko "tooted" (equivalent to "tweeted") that the open source microblogging platform now has a million more users than the 380,000 it had at the end of October, showing that there is some appetite for a genuine Twitter alternative since Musk's $44 billion takeover.

However, it has its shortcomings. Mastodon works over a federated network of servers, and users have to choose one when signing up – though they can see activity on other servers. While not a deal-breaker to those familiar with ye olde internet infrastructure, users have commented that the extra hurdles won't do Mastodon any favors in winning over Twitter faithful – who may simply opt to stay put despite the roaring dumpster fire it has become.

Meanwhile, The Register's thoughts are with the West Suffolk residents who joined Matt Hancock's app to keep abreast of local issues, only to see it become a meme. ®


It appears that the Matt Hancock MP app is a political donation from Disciple Media if this "cocker" is correct.

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