Councillor facing disciplinary hearing becomes international sensation - thanks to Twitter

South Wales Echo, UK/July 27, 2010

A city councillor whose web post describing Scientology as "stupid" became a major news story has spoken of his amazement at the power of social media.

John Dixon, who represents Cardiff's Adamsdown ward, has written a piece for a new city blogger about his experience last Tuesday when the story was picked up by Twitter users and ultimately led to a late-night appearance on the BBC's top current affairs show Newsnight.

Coun Dixon said his story, which he described as a "a minor complaint made about a local councillor", was there not because it was chosen by high-powered editors but because it was deemed interesting by the users of Twitter.

For around two hours on Tuesday afternoon, Scientology was the most discussed word among the hundreds of thousands of people using the website anywhere in the world as they expressed their outrage that Coun Dixon was facing a disciplinary hearing for describing it as "stupid".

Cardiff Festival 2010

During that time, the Cardiff councillor shared top billing with Leonardo Di Caprio's new film Inception and Lindsay Lohan's court troubles.

Today, that complaint returns to more familiar territory when it and the Public Service Ombudsman's for Wales' report, is discussed at the city's standards and ethics committee.

In his piece for Llanrumney campaigner Keith Jones' blog CardiffEast, Coun Dixon wrote that he felt Newsnight missed the most interesting part of his story - the role of Twitter in putting him in front of host Kirsty Wark.

He wrote: "I was appearing there, not because my story was thought particularly important by their editors by comparison with other events of the day, I was there because Twitter users had made it important.

"Ten years ago, it just wouldn't have happened. Five years ago it wouldn't have happened. A story about a minor complaint made about a local councillor in Cardiff would have just stayed inside the pages of the the local daily. On the day that, surely, was the story?"

He said he head "learned the power of social media, and possibly glimpsed the future democratisation of news."

Among the traditional news organisations that contacted him because of the Twitter outrage were the BBC, ITV, the Telegraph and Guardian.

"Looking at what was happening on Twitter, it was a bit like finding yourself watching some elemental force of nature - compelling, a bit scary, and completely uncontrollable," he wrote.

He added: "One of the most frequent questions I've been asked is "Do I regret it?"

"Well, I've got to talk with [free speech lawyer and blogger] Jack of Kent, one of the toppest blokes drawing breath today. I now know that I'm not the only one who can't understand why the complaint has got as far as it has. And, according to Ed Walker from Media Wales, their web page with the story on got sort of traffic normally reserved for stories about Charlotte Church.

"But mostly a lot of people had the chance to talk about what Mr Justice Latey described as a "corrupt, sinister and dangerous" organisation and free speech.

"What's to regret about that?"

The Ombudsman's report criticising Councillor Dixon goes to Cardiff council's Standards and Ethics committee today.

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