I will be interested to find out if turnout for the London Mayoral Election is higher than expected this year, and in particular if it is higher among the 18-25s. The reason for the latter is that a Facebook group has been created by London Elects, presumably, the body overseeing the running of the contest. It is very simple, it has a logo that reminds about the date, offers links on how to register and who the candidates are and has created an event which all members of the London network are invited to join: once joined they can be contacted about the event by London Elects and reminded the day before and on 1st May. The attempt is clearly designed to reach out to a voter group that have lesser likelihood of participating via a media they are expected to use and interact with; hits all the buttons but will it work? Will it be just the over 30s Facebook users and political anoraks (yes, that is me I refer to) that sign up and vote or will a few 18 yr old new voters be drawn out by this experiment?
London Elects is not alone in getting a seat on the Facebook bandwagon. The Power of Information Taskforce has been created, under the leadership of Tom Watson MP (right), which aims at helping government departments make better use of the Internet. Just focusing on one site Netmums a "unique local network for Mums (or Dads), offering a wealth of information on both a national and local level", Watson argues "Having 100,000 mums on a social network like NetMums sharing ideas about how you bring up kids or what it's like to give birth can be useful to government because they can talk about the services that they provide. Government can be useful to them to give them advice on what's good and what isn't good". So perhaps the notion of political marketing will incorporate data collection on the issues of concern via monitoring social networks which will then be reiterated back to the public via manifestos.
But Watson sees a far more benign purpose and one that mirrors the growing trend for politician's use of ICT, he argues: "We have got to go where our citizens are congregating". Therefore he is selling the idea of going online, reaching out to voters/citizens and I guess getting them to then visit bespoke government and party sites, ergo: "it is genuinely so easy to set up a Wiki or a chat room and that it's useful to help people do their job and share ideas". True but for what purpose and with what effect? Engagement is the bottom line it seems but, as with the bid to get more voters turning out on May 1st, will it work?