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Trolls converge on British politician's custom social network

Is Matt Hancock, UK secretary of state for digital, the next Mark Zuckerberg? Not exactly, but he'll find out how tricky it is to keep a social network under control.

Matt Hancock MP website screenshot

Matt Hancock MP is the latest must-have social networking app (if you live in West Suffolk).

Disciple Media/Screenshot

How do you like to communicate with your elected representative?

Residents of the UK's West Suffolk constituency now have a direct line to theirs thanks to a new app, Matt Hancock MP. The app, available free as on iOS and Android, is a social network based solely on the member of parliament of the same name.

Hancock, who is also secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, announced the app's release on Twitter on Thursday. It is designed primarily for his constituents to communicate with him directly and vice versa, although anyone can sign up to check in on what Hancock's up to.

Wind back the clock five years, and new social networks were popping up all the time, but these days that's a rare occurrence. This hasn't dissuaded Hancock from rolling up his sleeves and diving into the world of app building.

Screenshot showing a sampling of the japes taking place on the Matt Hancock MP social network.

A sampling of the japes taking place on the Matt Hancock MP social network.

Screenshot

Mark Zuckerberg, though, he is not.

The MP employed a London-based software company called Disciple Media to create the app on his behalf. Disciple has also created apps for musicians, including The Rolling Stones and country music star Luke Bryan, as well as wellness guru Madeleine Shaw.

After downloading the app, users are greeted by a video of Hancock welcoming them to his new community. The app features many of the features you'll be used to from other social networks: a home feed, messaging and friends. It is also the same mid-blue color as reigning social network Facebook.

Nice though the idea is of creating an online portal to communicate directly with the people who elected you, the internet, being the internet, is having rather a lot of fun with the app. The livestream feature, for example, has a live chat function even when the stream isn't live. It's currently attracting a stream of jokes about British politics with many people posing as Hancock, leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and other politicians past and present. Similarly, the "Have Your Say" feed is being populated with jokes and memes. 

At the moment it's all fun and games, but the influx of trolls leaves us wondering whether Matt Hancock MP will suffer the same problems with hate speech and other vexing content as mainstream social networks.

Given that the Conservative government, of which Hancock is a member, has repeatedly grilled social networks over privacy, fake news and illegal content over the past few years, we can only hope Hancock has employed a team of moderators to keep the place clean and tidy, as well as nice and secure.

Hancock previously described encryption as "crucial," but it's not known what level of encryption the messaging function of his own app offers. His boss, Prime Minister Theresa May, has consistently criticized social networks' use of encryption, so Hancock could be in hot water if he's not playing by her rules.

Hancock did not respond to a request for an interview about his app, and Disciple Media did not respond to an inquiry about the level of encryption used by the messaging feature.

As with all social networks, VIP users of Matt Hancock MP can get verified status. But unlike with Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, you don't need to prove how famous or popular are. Instead, if you want that blue tick, you only have to do one simple thing: move to West Suffolk.

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