Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chances are your MP is not on Facebook - but should they be?

It is always good to see an academic article generating debate and Andy Williamson's report for the Hansard Society has done just that in certain quarters. Well it will if you spin it a certain way. Andy's report is based on research among MPs to discover how they use the Internet. The findings are not earth-shattering though very interesting to those into such things. The conclusions are equally highly sensible; he argues for MPs to have a clear policy and strategy for going online, one linking with offline communication strategy, that MPs should think about the multiplier effect when using social networking (that one reader may tell another 10 or so), and to think about engaging with the communities that are key to them. That broad brush was spun by Emily Bell to argue that most MPs do not want 'connectivity' and 'avoid using Facebook or even email' and suggests that MPs who do not 'get' the Internet are about to be kicked out of their seats.
The most interesting thing about Bell's article is the comments it has generated, a 100 to this point which can be separated into a couple of camps broadly: the sceptics that think 'connectivity' is a good thing for MPs but something they would never consider - Almosta argues "they are scared s***less of being confronted by real people". Then there are those who suggest Facebook is the wrong place for politicians or indeed anything serious citing research to suggest it creates an audience of attention deficient and selfish individuals. Some of the inaccuracies are wonderful, such as the delightful comment by TristramShandy that "Lynn Featherstone, is great at responding promptly and constructively to emails - precisely because she's not the kind of bandwagon-hopping moron who thinks the illusion of accessibility is more important than the reality", sorry Tristram, Lynne is one of my friends on Facebook and quite and active user! But at the heart of the debate is the age old question of what is appropriate for political communication, is it the latest public fad or the old tried and tested methods? Facebook is not elitist, it may well be changing the way children interact, but if it was not the current sites it would be others. Should MPs embrace where the people are and will not doing so make them appear aloof and out of touch? Williamson's report shows some interesting data and raises interesting questions particularly about the future - email was once a minority communication tool among MPs, as were websites; now they are common and expected of all including parliamentary candidates. Will the future demand MPs have a version of Facebook or Twitter or something we have not yet even thought of, or should they resist and leave such innovations to the 20% or so early adopters? Big questions!


Matt Hurst said...

The thing is it surely would depend on the ward. Andrew George my current MP in St Ives is very active in the area and I am generally pleased with what he does.

On the opposite side John Butterfill my Mp in Bournemouth or even John Pugh my MP back in Southport (Though to a lesser extent) they seemed to actively avoid talking to the public.

I'm not sure if Butterfill actually spends anytime in Bournemouth, as I never witnessed him and only knew his name after living three years there
(Ironically I saw John Pugh and Andrew George in Bournemouth more times than I saw Butterfill due to Liberal Democrats conference).

George and Butterfill don't have a facebook, but it doesn't bother me to much with George because he generally makes sure he is known and what he is doing. Butterfill however comes across as someone who is confident even in the Labour Tsuamni he comfortably survived and he doesn't need to get out, so I find that pretty lazy though many Mp's could be accused of this.

This isn't anti Tory, I generally didn't know of him until I seeked his name, I knew of Tobias before I knew of Butterfill and I've never lived in Bournemouth East.

So yes I think it depends alot on age and also on your active nature as an Mp.

POLPUB said...

I think social networks such as facebook are great and an effective tool that could be used by MPs across the country in a much more effective manner. Facebook is a very personal affair. It shows who you are friends with and social interests.

Somthing that Barack Obama did during his campaign was to use facebook to link supporters from across the globe and communicate to a huge audience.

Although an MP would be aware of the time involved in maintaining a facebook page. In order for it to work effectively. After all, the community that the MP represents, how many of the voting population actually use facebook? and would they add the MP to their friends list?

Further to the above, I think control of information on facebook is difficult. And within Politics, controlling the flow of communication and information is vital.

Then there is the question of security - how secure is facebook as a tool? I know of number of incidents whereby people have accessed another persons personal profile and caused serious damage.

Additionally, I think MPs are not neccessarily new media savvy - and are comfortable in their tarditional ways of doing things. Although I think the Obama effect will change this in the UK. And with the general elections approaching, i'm sure we will see an increased use of social networks such as facebook.

In my opinion, facebook is another tool but cannot be used alone and requires a mix of tools for effective communication.

BoredofFuckingFacebook said...

Talk about somethin else for god sake, facebook is a load of imiture tossers throwing sheep at each other who the hell wants to engage with a bunch of vacuos bastards like them tehy know fuck all bout politics and dont give a shit either

Darren G Lilleker said...

Thank you for that insightful comment, while there may be a good point hiding here somewhere I would jsut comment that the Facebook community is actually quite diverse, yes some may throw sheep at one another but it is no worse than sending a smiley by text to an old friend. On the politics of Facebook, or whether politics occurs, please look at the causes and campaigns followed there. this is not simply a vacuous group of 13-20s chatting and dating it is more than that and to dismiss it out of hand would be wrong.

POLPUB said...

If people are bored of facebook - why do they still use it?

Matt Hurst said...

Facebook unlike Myspace was one of the first to pick up older users. You get older users on Myspace but like myself I only use it for Music.

Twitter may take over, but I have a feeling it might die out pretty quickly, it's a site for attention seeking.

As POLPUB said and I commented upon, for some Mp's there would be no point in using facebook as most of the ward probably don't use it.

And I guess most of the Mp's on mine only added me due to affliation.

POLPUB said...

I completely agree with Matt, however, I also think MPs need to become more acustomed with social netowork. People in the MPs ward may not use them today or tomorrow but I am certain that social networks will become a crucial part in everybodies life - as the technology becomes a tangible asset in everybodies life - like the mobile phone.

I think social networks could help with engagement problem of politics, and even only one person uses it, that person should not be neglected. End of the day, that person is still a citizen and has a right.

Although, I think the way Politics is taught at grass root levels needs to be updated. The syllabus needs to take in to consideration new technologies and social changes which will help to bring people in politics up to date with these techonologies.