You have probably heard of Politics For All, the Twitter account with nearly half a million followers that got permanently banned from the platform last week. Known for its snappy and clickbait-y posts about the news of the day, it had seemingly come out of nowhere and managed to take British politics by storm. It had been quote tweeted by, among others, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and its deletion was covered by the national press.
“Alex From Glasto”, as he was dubbed, became famous overnight for his unexpected confidence and delivery of the song “Thiago Silva”. One of his fans was Mail on Sunday columnist Dan Hodges, who decided to follow the teenager on Twitter.
To his surprise, Alex DM-ed him not long afterwards. His friend, he said, was thinking of launching an online outlet for quick, unbiased political news - could he help? Hodges agreed, and had a chat with 17-year-old Nick Moar, who was then in sixth form studying multimedia journalism. In August 2019, @politicsforali – the handle @politicsforall was already taken – was born.
In order to gain followers quickly, Moar - who did not wish to comment for this piece - reached out to prominent political tweeters to ask them to promote his new account. One of them was Emily Hewertson, a young Conservative commentator with a hefty online following. She liked the idea and thought it “could enable more political news to reach young people”, so agreed.
As the account’s fairy godfather, Hodges was also roped in, and encouraged his 150,000 followers to take a look at Politics For All.
Clearly, the approach worked. By March 2020, the account had amassed just under 9,000 followers. Its formula was simple: All day, every day, @politicsforali would post a mix of breaking news, interesting lines from TV interviews and newspaper pieces, opinion polls and relevant quotes from House of Commons debates.
The tweets would usually feature pictures and the more eye-catching lines were prefaced with “NEW:” or “BREAKING”. PFA’s follower count kept growing, slowly but steadily.
It would be hard to pinpoint what changed in late 2020 and early 2021, but it probably had something to do with the UK government’s approach to announcing COVID restrictions. As cases rose again in the autumn, rumours of rule changes kept floating around the internet and news websites.
Was there going to be a firebreak lockdown of a month? Two months? Two weeks? What tier were various regions going to be put into? What did those tiers even mean? Was it possible to travel abroad? If so, was it possible to come back?
Attempting to piece together the countless anonymous and usually contradictory briefings given to different newspapers suddenly felt like an impossible task. Following an account that quickly published rundowns of what various journalists had heard felt, to many, like a no-brainer.
Questions had already started arising about who exactly was running the account but, lest we forget, December 2020’s cancellation of Christmas for London and the south of England was announced by @Carolin64723572, the unverified back-up account of a Sunday Times journalist. Being on Twitter in those months often meant learning of plans-ruining news from accounts that looked like bots.
In any case, this turned out to be good for PFA’s business. In March 2021, it had 43,000 followers; by May, it had risen to 114,000. By that point, the tweets had reached their final form, complete with the now infamous siren emoji and the link to the original story published in a second tweet – a few minutes later, so the account could retain most of the engagement.
On top of this, Moar had begun managing NewsForAll and FootballForAll Twitter accounts, which did what they said on the tin. As lockdown was ending and the For All empire kept growing, Moar decided to hire some admins to help him out.
One of them was 18-year-old Kacey Montagu from Solihull. “Each of the three accounts would have a head admin, then about five normal admins,” she explains. “The job itself was a very fast-paced environment, you'd be on [Twitter dashboard ap] TweetDeck scrolling through and searching for news.”
Montagu had originally been a “big fan of the account” and responded to a tweet about hiring admins. In the end, she left because she “just didn't have the time for it”, adding: “The amount you had to tweet each day was quite frustrating and stressful to deal with, and wasn't really worth the £25 a month that you'd get paid for the work on NFA, or £75 on PFA.”
Another admin was Travis Wright, who is now 18 and in college in Suffolk, and who described himself as Moar’s former “right hand man”. “All our communication was done on WhatsApp groups,” he said - one for each of the three accounts and one For All one, for the “super admins”.
“Nick used to just say, "OK, I'm not going to be on tonight because I'm getting pissed" or whatever. Whenever he said that, one of us would go on TweetDeck, and we watched #TomorrowsPapersToday and we kept refreshing newspaper websites.”
“We wouldn't tweet the headline, we figured out how to... not manipulate the headline per se, but to make it more easily read into. I just used to find that nugget in long articles – Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times was really good for that, for example.”
This not-quite manipulation ended up landing Politics For All in hot water more than once. Newspapers have experienced reporters and in-house lawyers who can be relied on if a topic is legally or ethically tricky. If you’re 18 and tweeting like your life depends on it, it can be easy to overstep the mark.
It can also be easy to run a surprisingly and increasingly viral account and start to get high off your own supply. Moar was unashamed in his ambitions to grow the For All brand as much as possible and, according to former staffers, would prioritise clicks over more or less everything.
This put him at odds with many people in and around Westminster, especially journalists who felt their work was being lifted without them benefiting from the traffic. Well, it was actually a bit more complicated than that.
As reporters whined on Twitter about the clickbait theft of Politics For All, many of them also got in touch with Moar privately to ask him to tweet out their pieces to get more traffic. After all, PFA wouldn’t have succeeded if people with large followings hadn’t endlessly retweeted and quote tweeted its pieces. As with Guido Fawkes a few years earlier, the Westminster bubble created a monster then complained when it got loose.
Still, the account kept growing and gaining legitimacy. In August last year, it was even mentioned by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and was nearing 300,000 followers, including Carrie Johnson.
The first cracks started to show at the Conservatives’ annual conference in October. Moar attended and, on the third day, attempted to get into iNHouse Communications’ infamous karaoke event. The bash has a notoriously tight guestlist and, despite not being on it, the teenager tried to blag his way in. He failed.
Instead of taking it on the chin and returning to the hotel bar, Moar launched into a tirade against the agency on PFA’s account, describing the organisation “finished” and “awful”.
The next day, some of the admins, including Travis Wright, turned on him. “I said, ‘I can’t believe you made that error. I mean without trying to sound egotistical, we are massive, and we have massive influence now, and you can’t be doing that.’ And he was like, ‘yeah, I’ve just been given a bollocking by Andrew Neil for about an hour.’”
This wasn’t the only disagreement happening internally. Moar had largely been paying his staffers from his own pocket, as well as the wages he received from the social media work he did for the Spectator. In order to make the account more lucrative, he had turned to sponsored tweets - some shadier than others.
There were also ads for glasses, as well as endless sponsored links to stories from the relatively obscure outlet Ground News, which were not flagged as such. To readers, the stories just looked like the usual links PFA would post. “That was all sponsored, every time we did it,” Wright said. “We had to increasingly make them more clickbait-y, to get the sufficient amount of clicks.”
When Politics For All, News For All, Football For All and Nick Moar’s personal account were deleted permanently by Twitter without warning or explanation in early January, many pointed to these sneaky sponsored tweets as the reason.
In fact, as Montagu explains, “the accounts were banned for platform manipulation and spam - in more simple words, they would RT their own accounts with each other in order to get more engagements which is against Twitter's terms and conditions.”
Twitter itself has so far refused to get into the details of the case, though a spokesperson told Press Gazette that the accounts “were suspended for violating the Twitter Rules on platform manipulation and spam”.
The ban came as a shock to everyone, from the For All Team to anyone who had been spending time around British political Twitter. It was also a controversial one, both because the lack of transparency of social media platforms is an ongoing concern, and because no-one quite knew what to make of Politics For All.
Were they clickbait fiends, ruining the political discourse one disingenuous tweet at a time? A harmless aggregator, selflessly helping people stay on top of Westminster news? Were they a bunch of kids trying to do something fun? Cynical manipulators trying to make some dosh? All of the above? None?
For Shipman of the Sunday Times: “The more the merrier, really; anyone who wants to get excited about politics gets my vote. They were quite good at spotting news lines and making sure everybody else spotted them as well.”
On the other hand, “I didn’t like their tendency to focus on the most incendiary pieces of news out of context,” says Luke Tryl, the director of More in Common, a think tank that works to tackle polarisation in politics. “It was bad for the state of discourse. If you looked at the replies to their tweet about Blair being in Ghislaine Maxwell’s black book, despite it being clear in the Mirror article it just meant she had his contact details, the way it was tweeted implied he was a paedo. There was proper vigilante rhetoric below [the tweet] from people who weren’t being directed to read the article. And that was just one tweet.”
It is a tricky question. Politics For All brought news to an audience without the time or willingness to read thousands of words every day just to stay on top of what goes on in Westminster. It was run by people born and bred online, with an instinctive sense of what flies on social media and what doesn’t.
They sexed up the occasional headline but, really, can older and more established journalists pretend they’ve never done that? What are headlines for if not to entice people to keep reading, even if that sometimes means oversimplifying an issue, or picking the most outrageous line in an otherwise measured piece?
Or perhaps Moar and his acolytes aren’t the problem, and the intersection of British politics and Twitter is. This was a group of teenagers with too much time on their collective hands; of course they couldn’t be entirely trusted. It isn’t their fault that they somehow ended up living rent-free in the heads of so many of the country’s leading politicians and journalists.
It takes a village to raise a child, and without people’s addiction to snarky quote tweets and low blows to political opponents, Moar would still be a teenager like any other. Social media can bring the worst in all of us, but other people can, too. If all these adults grew to resent Politics For All, it is probably because they knew they had helped to create it.
There is probably a lesson to be learnt here. But instead, you and I will probably keep scrolling till someone else comes along to alleviate our boredom and appeal to our base instincts, and we will - BREAKING - be back to square one, again.