9 Things To Know About Ben Bradley's Tweet Libelling Jeremy Corbyn

    The Conservative MP made a costly mistake when he alleged Jeremy Corbyn was paid by Czech spies – and accidentally set a new social media record.

    Late on Saturday night, when most normal people were blind drunk, Conservative MP Ben Bradley issued a formal apology on Twitter for libelling Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

    On the 19th of February I made a defamatory statement about @jeremycorbyn. I have apologised to Mr Corbyn and here… https://t.co/TYhfzp3wBv

    Bradley is one of the youngest Conservative MPs in the House of Commons and earlier this year was appointed as one of the party's vice chairs with a brief to reconnect with young voters, especially on social media.

    His online record so far is mixed. In the last six weeks BuzzFeed News has exposed how Bradley once used a blog to call for vasectomies for the poor, tweeted about his desire to play "splat the chav" with water cannon during the London riots, and urged public sector workers to quit their jobs if they don't like the pay.

    He topped this off last week by libelling Jeremy Corbyn in a reply tweet, suggesting without any evidence that the Labour leader used to sell British state secrets to communist spies.

    Here's what's noteworthy about this unusual footnote in British political history:

    1. It's quite unusual for a politician to actually start legal action against a rival politician, especially over a tweet.

    Bradley made the libellous comments in a reply to the Twitter account @Far_Right_Watch, at the peak of press speculation regarding whether or not Corbyn provided information to the security services in former Eastern Bloc communist countries.

    Corbyn's team has only ever accepted one fact: In 1986 the Labour leader met with a Czech diplomat who was also a spy, as part of a series of meetings with many representatives of foreign governments. There is no suggestion he was paid for information, as Bradley suggested.

    What's unusual about this incident is that Corbyn actively chose to pursue legal action over comments by a fellow MP, made good on his threat, and claimed damages. Such incidents are rare in British politics: Politicians tend to view political attacks by their opponents as either part of the cost of doing business – and settle for an apology if they go further.

    The original tweet was retweeted only a handful of times but was enormously amplified when leading voices on the left-wing of politics picked up on it, prompting Corbyn's team to act.

    "Even though he'd deleted it, it had been reported and it was known he'd made the allegation and that still stood," a Labour source explained. "We felt it was important and it had still had enough pickup. He's not just some backbench MP, he's a vice chair of the party. He's got a senior role in the party structures."

    2. Bradley's apology is probably the most retweeted tweet ever posted by a Conservative MP, which should give the party some unwanted guidance on how to go viral.

    Really pleased to have been appointed as Vice Chair of the @Conservatives and having the opportunity to work and ma… https://t.co/vUQGTrmkWs

    Bradley was appointed vice chair of the Conservative party last month with a brief to help the party reconnect with younger voters. The Tories are well aware of their weakness on social media, where the governing party is enormously outgunned by Labour, and are committed to finding messages that go viral. Even if that means paying people.

    Since then he has inadvertently provided a template for getting retweets: a grovelling apology that attracts retweets due to the power of schadenfreude. No other Conservative MP – not even the last two prime ministers – has come close to the 48,000 retweets Bradley received within 36 hours of posting his apology.

    While the Conservatives' social media output has improved since the party's disastrous party conference Instagram, it's a sign that they've still got a long way to go in a world where anti-Tory anger is the most powerful driver of engagement on the political internet.

    3. You can't bury an apology on Twitter. And if you try to hide it then you'll only amplify the message.

    Ben has retweeted lots of @Conservatives tweets so this isn't at the top of his Twitter, so please do as he asks an… https://t.co/pTh4DRGZqB

    Newspapers are often criticised for burying corrections – printing a false headline on the front page one day and then apologising for mistakes on an inside page several weeks later.

    Online that just isn't possible and any attempt to bury a correction will backfire.

    Bradley tweeted out his message at 10:30pm on a Saturday night and then immediately retweeted a number of other Conservative messages. His opponents then held this up as evidence he was attempting to bury the apology, which only had the effect of making his tweet go more viral. The Streisand effect is alive and well.

    It's impossible to work out the actual reach of Bradley's apology but it is likely to have attracted millions of impressions on Twitter, before accounting for the substantial reach in other media.

    4. Ben Bradley prints out his apologies and takes a photo of them, rather than uploading them.

    Ben Bradley

    The only other person in politics with this approach to screengrabs is Harriet Harman.

    5. Unfortunately printing off apologies results in a dark, murky tweets which are hard to read. Luckily BuzzFeed News has sharpened the image to make it much easier to comprehend.

    Ben Bradley

    6. Labour forced him to include the words "please retweet".

    Ben Bradley

    Labour sources confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Corbyn's lawyers required the use of the phrase "Please retweet" in the apology. Whether or not this was strictly necessary is up for debate but it did mean Ben Bradley spent Saturday evening typing the words "Please retweet" before signing off on his own social media death warrant.

    While the decision to insist on that wording may have been partly to do with making Bradley suffer for his mistake, it also sets a precedent for future political apologies and similar phrasing is likely in future political and media apologies.

    7. We're not completely sure it's Ben Bradley's signature, since it was cut off halfway through.

    8. This was an expensive mistake for Ben Bradley – and good news for a Mansfield food bank.

    Labour sources say Bradley has paid damages of around £10,000 to a homelessness charity and a food bank in his Mansfield constituency, although no figure has been officially confirmed. If he picks up the entire bill himself that's a hefty sum – and could wipe out the part-time salary he has been given as vice chair of the Conservative party.

    9. Legal threats can kill stories and taking on the press works for Corbyn.

    The front page of tomorrow's Daily Telegraph: 'Corbyn was Cold War source, says Czech spy' #TomorrowsPapersToday

    Previous Labour leaders rarely dared to take on right-wing newspapers such as the Daily Mail, the Sun, and the Daily Telegraph in the belief that a fight with the print media would always do more damage than good.

    Corbyn is different. Whether out of exasperation or a confidence that such publications don't matter, he has repeatedly criticised the papers by name during their recent investigations into his alleged links to Cold War spies. And rather than back down, Corbyn released a video warning them that change was on the way.

    Successfully suing someone for libel focuses minds and by this weekend – with Bradley's expensive libel victory public knowledge – the story had all but vanished from newspapers.

    Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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